Force India: Rivals missed chance to sign Ocon
Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley says rival Formula 1 teams have missed their chance to sign Esteban Ocon, despite interest in his availability.
Both Ocon and team-mate Sergio Perez have been linked to the vacant second seat at the Renault F1 squad alongside Nico Hulkenberg for 2018.
Ocon was reserve driver for Renault last year, before contesting the final nine races of the season with the now defunct Manor outfit.
The Mercedes F1 junior then moved to its customer Force India for the 2017 season on a "multi-year" deal, and has scored points in 11 of this season's 12 grands prix.
Ocon is contracted with Force India until 2019 and Fernley said it is keen to reap the rewards of securing him early.
Force India's French driver Esteban Ocon drives as it rains during the qualifying session at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on September 2, 2017 ahead of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix. The qualifying session in Monza has been delayed becausGetty Images
"We'll do everything in our power to maintain the driver line-up we have today," Fernley told Autosport.
"We're in a very fortunate position in that, like the top three teams, we've got two super-talented drivers, and we're going to need that in order to battle for fourth place in 2018, or hopefully even go higher.
"The last thing we want to do is to lose talent. Esteban is contracted with us effectively for three years, but two of them are absolutely secure.
"From a contractual point of view it's clear, and I don't think Esteban has got any ideas of wishing to go anywhere else at this point.
"You've got to remember that we identified the potential of Esteban some time ago, and we obviously took the opportunity where others didn't, including Renault, to sign him last year.
"We've now got the benefit of that, and we want to make sure that we optimise that."
Pascal Wehrlein hofft auf Verbleib in der Formel 1Getty Images
While Ocon is expected to stay put next year, sources have suggested that Mercedes would be happy for him to move to Renault.
That would free up a Force India seat for its second junior, Pascal Wehrlein, whose future with Sauber beyond the end of this season remains unresolved.
Perez is also expected to stay at Force India next season, which would mark his fifth-straight year with the squad.
"There's always alternatives for drivers who don't have contracts, but I believe Checo is happy here, and always has been," added Fernley.
"We still offer the best competitive seat for him."