Racing driver's verdict on the Brazil GP: Ocon vs Verstappen – who was to blame?
Our man in the pitlane at Interlagos picks the bones out of the biggest controversy of the weekend
The Brazilian Grand Prix was an absolutely brilliant race. It had great action on the track, tense strategy calls, a controversial incident with the leader and three different teams represented on the podium. I think if anyone wasn’t excited or didn’t enjoy that race, then I probably suggest you stop following F1 and find another sport, because that was top notch.
Max takes the headlines again
Let’s talk about Max Verstappen because he unquestionably grabbed all of the headlines. The Red Bulls had no chance when it came to Qualifying thanks to the straight line speed disadvantage all the way from turn 12 up to the finish line. Looking at the speeds of the top six cars across the finish, the Mercedes and Ferraris seemed to have converged in terms of downforce and engine modes, which meant that they were about the same, whereas the Red Bulls were 10 – 12 kilometres per hour down.
But on a hot race day, much like in Mexico, their brilliant chassis allowed them to look after the tyres much better than anyone else. We saw on Friday that both the soft and super soft tyres were prone to blistering this weekend. For a driver, that’s a horrible feeling as you spend the entire time just driving below the limit of the car, hoping that these heat blisters don’t build up.
It was slightly frustrating to hear the drivers being told “you went too fast through the high speed corners early in the lap” even during Qualifying as it meant they overheated the tyres before the end of the lap and struggled for grip in the last couple of corners. As a driver, Qualifying for me was always a highlight as it meant you had the opportunity to attack every single corner without even thinking about tyre management or fuel management, but that now seems to have gone away.
Anyway, I digress. Max did his usual good start before fighting superbly with the Ferraris and Bottas. Clearly the Red Bull’s front end was working well enough for him to take tighter lines and alternative lines than the Ferraris and Mercedes which meant that when he got to turn 12, he was able to get just about close enough to take advantage of the DRS and the slipstream to make the moves into turn 1.
He showed great race craft in that first half of the race and the overtaking moves were decisive and aggressive but without being over the top. The moves into turn 1 were being executed only because he was being smart in his positioning at turn 12, sometimes using the inside kerb aggressively to help turn the car and avoid the dirty air from the car in front to get a good run onto the straight.
Once again, as we’ve seen on several occasions in his short career, Max was able to manage the tyres beautifully. At a phase when the red and silver cars had already pitted, the Dutchman even came on the radio to say his old Super Soft the tyres were getting better which rubbed further salt into the wounds. When he eventually pitted and came out behind Lewis, his tyres were 16 laps fresher and being on the Softs rather than Lewis’ mediums, the move to retake the lead really was like taking candy from a baby.
*That* Max/Esteban moment
But of course it all unravelled he came into contact with Esteban Ocon at the Senna Esses. Looking purely at the rules and the facts of the case, yes Esteban was on the faster tyre, having just pitted and rejoining on Super Softs, while Max of course was managing his Softs to the end of the race. And yes, as per the rules, there’s nothing that says that you cannot unlap yourself.
However, in the same way as there’s an unwritten rule and understanding between drivers in Qualifying that if you’re in a queue and all backing off at the last corner to get space for your lap, nobody jumps the queue, it’s also good etiquette to not really put the race leaders at risk when you’re being lapped or unlapping yourself.
I know from my experience at HRT that driving around looking in your mirrors while being lapped is actually a very stressful thing but ultimately, my view is that you have to be respectful of the people battling for the lead, especially if you’re outside the points and not really in a wheel to wheel battle. One day you may be in that position, and you will really want drivers that you are lapping to move out of the way and leave you alone.
I think that while it was fine for Esteban to go back alongside Max under braking for the first left hander, when at that point he wasn’t fully ahead, he should have backed out of it and not tried to carry on with the move into turn 2. That’s not an opinion based on a regulation, but based on good racing respect and etiquette.
People have said that if they were racing for position, you would probably call that a racing incident and I sort of agree, as Max didn’t really leave him any room at turn 2. However, the point is that they were not racing for position. Max is 100 per cent focussed on Lewis as his rival and therefore as soon as they went through the first left, he’s assumed that Esteban, as a lapped car, has done the respectful thing and backed out of it and Max’s brain is already thinking about his line and throttle application out of turn 2 and getting a good exit.
The bit of shoving at the weigh bridge afterwards of course gathered plenty of attention. I saw quite a few tweets saying things like “he would be arrested if he did that outside the track”!
Of course Max shouldn’t have shoved Esteban and of course none of us can possibly condone any form of violence, but the adrenalin pumping through the veins of a Grand Prix driver is something people at home can’t really relate to and seeing passion from a driver is what makes them the gladiators that this sport needs. Besides, I think that I’ve been shoved more aggressively by people trying to get on the tube in London during rush hour!
I saw the drivers shake hands and put it behind them in the paddock after coming out of the stewards so clearly that’s a closed matter, although Max of course has a bit of FIA public service work to do as a slap on the wrist, which is fair enough.
Off to Abu Dhabi for the final hurrah of this year’s World Championship. Ferrari looked like they had a very quick car in Qualifying in Brazil but in the race, Vettel in particular had a pretty sub-par day. The long straights in Abu Dhabi will again hurt Red Bull but based on what we’ve seen in the past couple of weekends, you wouldn’t be too confident betting against them!