Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff says the situation surrounding the future of junior driver Esteban Ocon remains “really complicated".

The takeover of the rebranded Racing Point Force India team by Canadian businessman Lawrence Stroll has left Ocon’s future with the Silverstone squad in doubt, with Williams driver Lance Stroll set to partner Sergio Perez in a reshuffled driver line-up, possibly as early as this month's Russian Grand Prix.

Mercedes has since been searching alternative teams to place its protégé in, with Ocon understood to have been on the verge of signing for Renault before the French manufacturer instead opted for Daniel Ricciardo.

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McLaren was then targeted as a possible option, only for the Woking squad to announce it will promote its own young driver Lando Norris into the team as Stoffel Vandoorne’s replacement for 2019.

“On drivers, the situation is really complicated,” Wolff said during the Italian Grand Prix weekend. “Obviously with Esteban, it looked like we had a deal with Renault. And within 48 hours, things changed.

“Agreements suddenly were not agreements any more. But I can understand the rationale of Renault getting Ricciardo on board.

“It’s just the way that things panned out was not ideal for Esteban, and it would be really a shame if a timing issue or intransparent communication would be a reason for such a kid with ability not to find the right seat for next year.”

A straight swap to replace Stroll at Williams could offer the Frenchman a saving grace, but even that scenario is not without complications as reserve driver Robert Kubica’s contract stipulates he would be first in line to fill any void left by Stroll.

A full-time 2019 drive with the Grove-based outfit would not be off the cards for Ocon, though that would provide Mercedes with an additional dilemma over what it does with fellow junior George Russell should he end up winning the Formula 2 Championship he currently leads. Rules prevent the current champion from contesting a further year in the series.

The same lack of available seats forced Mercedes to place ex-Manor and Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein, who was a contender to replace Nico Rosberg following his retirement at the end of 2016, back in DTM for its final year competing in the premier class of the German touring car championship this season.

Wolff remains confident Ocon’s long-term prospects in F1 remain positive, though he admits he is beginning to question the role of the Mercedes young driver programme with roadblocks to F1 continuing to emerge.

“My long-term perspective on him [Ocon] is still very optimistic,” Wolff added. “He can drive, and he has a great personality, and eventually he’s going to be in a car that wins races and maybe a championship.

“You know fundamentally why we do this is we take great enjoyment in helping young talent who lack the finances. But if our support works until Formula 1 but is then detrimental to the guys having the right seats you need to consider these things.

“If you can’t find a place for them in Formula 1 it doesn’t make a lot of sense and that would be a shame in terms of the driver level in F1. I will discuss that with the board and with the management at the end of the year depending what the outcome is for George, Pascal and Esteban.”

Ocon, who received praise from world champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel after starring in a wet qualifying session at Spa before scoring his fifth points finish in the last six races at Monza, says he trusts in Mercedes to ensure he remains on the grid.

“I have the support from Mercedes that is what I see at the moment,” he explained. “They are helping me and pushing flat out to find a solution for me to have a seat for next year. That is what I see so far so they have always been making good decisions and I have always trusted them so it is still the case.”



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