Renault insists French nationality only a 'plus' in signing Ocon for 2020

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Renault has rejected Nico Hulkenberg's claim that Esteban Ocon's French nationality was a key reason in taking his seat for 2020.

After the summer break, it was confirmed the current Mercedes reserve would be returning to the Enstone-based team, where he has previously worked as a development driver.

That has led to some strong words from both Hulkenberg and Renault of the relative reasons, but team boss Cyril Abiteboul has denied there was pressure to hire a French driver from company bosses.

"What's important for the people you refer to is simply to be competitive, and in particular to be more competitive than what we have been this season, which is below our target," he stated at Monza.

“There are some positive signs as we’ve seen in the recent tracks, but we need to do better, that’s what we’re expecting, so that’s on that basis that we made the decision that we’ve made.

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“We didn’t focus on nationality or age, but if age can help in reaching these objectives then obviously we are not going to say no to that," Abiteboul admitted.

“I do believe that there is a generation of drivers that can maybe deal better with what’s required from the car, can adjust to the car, that’s the sort of things we're thinking about.

“As for nationality frankly it’s a plus, but I would not want to give the impression that we have changed the parameters for our decisions based on the fact that Esteban was born in the right part of the world as that would be unfair on his driving skills.”

The decision to choose Ocon also came as a surprise to Daniel Ricciardo, who Renault hired at the expense of the 22-year-old a year earlier.

And the former Red Bull driver echoed much of his team boss' sentiment. 

“Maybe this is breaking news as well: Esteban is also Australian, he has an Australian passport and I am French. I am Monegasque!” he joked.

“From a marketing point of view, it is probably nice having a French driver, French team, but as far as the team and performance goes, I’m not convinced that the team is making decisions based on marketing at the moment.

“The one objective, and the reason I signed with them, was because they want to be a top team and fight for championships," Ricciardo stated.

“Maybe the French thing is a bonus but I’d definitely say that performance and growth in the team is the bigger reason why they signed him, that is also my own speculation."

As for whether he had any say in Renault's decision, he added: “No, and it doesn’t really bother me.

“If they’d asked whether I wanted him or not, I’d say I don’t mind, if you think he is good then do it.”