Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff has hinted Esteban Ocon is set for a year as reserve driver at Brackley with chances of a Williams seat fading.
The Frenchman was a consideration for the Grove-based team, who have also taken on George Russell for next season, but needed to find additional sponsors to sure up their budget.
A deal with Rich Energy to replace Martini as title sponsor appeared done in Austin but then this week came the surprising news that the British energy drinks company is instead teaming up with Haas.
That appears to have been the final nail in Ocon's coffin for a 2019 F1 seat.
“I think the chances for next year are pretty grim,” Wolff told Sky Sports in Mexico. “That hasn’t changed really for the last two months."
Now the 'Plan B' the Austrian has previously talked about is likely to be put into action and that involves Ocon working behind the scenes at Mercedes.
"It is probably better for him to sit one year out and come back in a strong car," Toto stated.
"We are already thinking about 2020. He is going to be involved in all our development in the Mercedes car, and then we will see where he ends up.
“We need to balance it. On the one side you want him to stay sharp and race, and maybe help a car that is not performing so well, but on the other side he can do a really good support job on the Mercedes also."
It could well be ideal preparation ahead of taking Valtteri Bottas' seat for 2020 which is a rumour being mentioned and Ocon remains confident in his future.
"I trust Toto," the 22-year previously told Sky Sports in Austin. "He has always found solutions for me.
"Even if I don't have a seat next year, we see great opportunities for 2020. I hope the future will be bright."
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