Verstappen & Ocon clash overshadows Brazilian GP
Every world champion needs a shade of ruthlessness. But was the tangle between Esteban Ocon and Max Verstappen in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix proof that both drivers have a lot to learn? Luke Barry investigates.
Max Verstappen should’ve won the penultimate race of the 2018 Formula 1 season. No matter what your stance is on the incident that occurred on lap 44 between the Dutchman and Esteban Ocon, that race was his for the winning.
Having started fifth, he made light-work of displacing Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to climb to second behind new five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
After the first round of pit stops the Red Bull man continued to hold second but was catching Hamilton’s Mercedes which it later transpired had been carrying a severe engine problem.
Having reeled in the Briton, Verstappen made a clean move for the lead on lap 40 of 71 which looked to perfectly set him up for victory number six of his career.
It would all change four laps later however in the same sequence of turns that yielded Verstappen the lead of the race.
An opportunistic Ocon was running a lap behind the leaders in his Force India, and had already un-lapped himself against other cars further down the order earlier in the grand prix.
Quickly approaching race leader Verstappen, the Frenchman moved to the outside of the Red Bull in order to make a pass, which although bizarre, is allowed in the regulations if the lapped car is travelling significantly faster per lap than the car it’s trying to un-lap itself against.
Running around the outside of Turn 1 should’ve afforded Ocon the inside line into Turn 2 in order to execute a good pass on Verstappen, but Verstappen took the apex for himself and the two collided. The floor of the Red Bull was damaged and crucially he was now down to second place.
Verstappen was absolutely furious after the race, labelling Ocon an “idiot” and a “p*ssy” after the contact, with Ocon insisting he was allowed to make the move given his speed merited it.
Lewis Hamilton went on to win the race and take further strides towards matching Michael Schumacher’s all-time records, taking a staggering 50th win from 99 races in the turbo-hybrid era.
Did Verstappen chuck this one away or was it stolen from him? Let’s take a closer look by examining the various elements of the incident.
The crash itself
Ultimately both drives mis-judged the situation, but it would be unfair to portion too much blame on Verstappen for the crash because as race leader, he wouldn’t have expected to be challenged by somebody running outside of the points.
Ocon got this one badly wrong. Although it is true that he did pass others in a similar fashion, these cars were not running in high positions and nor were they as quick as Verstappen’s Red Bull. The argument that he was faster and therefore Verstappen could’ve lost him some pace is a little ironic too given he was in the lead of the grand prix. The risk was far bigger than the potential reward.
The Frenchman also finds himself in a rather unfortunate situation where his chances of remaining on the F1 grid for 2019 are rather precarious. Therefore, a high-profile blunder like this one isn’t exactly going to do him any favours.
Having said all that, the incident does highlight a major flaw in Verstappen’s driving and attitude.
Verstappen has built up a reputation as one of the best over-takers in F1, with this further on show in Brazil with his swift ascendance up the field. However, his rather robust defensive driving has been called into question on several occasions, with drivers labelling him dangerous and irresponsible in the past.
This is frequently the sign of a brilliant race driver in the instance of Fernando Alonso, defending as much as he can in order to protect his position. But with Verstappen the moves can often be too aggressive, too late and too self-righteous.
It can be strongly argued that Verstappen was placed in a position that should never have occurred against Ocon, but regardless of this, it was the situation that Verstappen was put into on Sunday.
He therefore had a choice. As Hamilton pointed out to him after the race, Ocon was technically within his rights to un-lap himself, and Verstappen could have just accepted what was happening and afforded Ocon the room to pass. He had far more to lose than Ocon by being stubborn, and ultimately so it proved.
Ocon received a 10 second stop-go penalty for the altercation which suggests the incident was more down to him, and it’s hard to disagree with this. But a slightly more mature head from Verstappen could’ve protected himself from danger, even if he justifiably felt he shouldn’t have had to. Losing a second or two to Hamilton is better than losing the grand prix to him.
After the race
Verstappen warned on his team radio as he completed his warm-down lap that Ocon should hope that “he [Verstappen] does not run into him” after the race. Somewhat inevitably, that is exactly what happened and what occurred is frankly a disgraceful mess.
Verstappen is within his rights to feel aggrieved, and he conveyed his point immediately after stepping out of his car in the live television interviews before the podium. He is also within his rights to go and seek clarification with Ocon as to why he was challenged when the pair were not in the same race.
But to storm up to him in the weighing area and start shoving his rival around is truly unacceptable. Physical violence should be avoided at all costs, particularly in such a high-profile sport with a host of impressionable children and hopeful racers watching. The Dutchman was subsequently handed two days of public service as a punishment.
This rivalry runs deep into the pair’s Formula 3 days, but neither covered themselves in particular glory here.
Ocon should never really have attempted the move on the leader, as what did he really have to gain? But Verstappen should have used his head and tried to rise above it. It will be fascinating to see how this saga develops.
Ultimately the only real winner was Lewis Hamilton. On a day where he could so easily retired with an expired engine, he took yet another victory to add his growing tally.