Another race, another Force India clash that prevented the team from scoring more points. Perez and Ocon weren’t happy after the race after the Pink Panthers clashed twice in the race, acknowledging an unsavoury pattern between the teammates, which seems to be as much about respect as it is skill.
Both Force India drivers were on for points at the Belgian Grand Prix, and Max Verstappen’s unfortunate retirement opened up an opportunity to outscore Red Bull again this season, and put some unwanted pressure onto the team in third at a point in the season in which they are desperate to keep in touch with Ferrari.
— Grand Prix Diary (@GrandPrixDiary) August 27, 2017
The first collision between the drivers came on lap one, as Perez found himself in an Ocon-Hulkenberg sandwich after Turn 1 on the run up to Eau Rouge. Given how chaotic lap one can be, it would be harsh to see the first incident as anything other than a racing incident, albeit one that was a precursor for things to come. Ocon was lucky to survive the fist lap clash, how his car didn’t have any serious steering problems was a small miracle.
What they said about the lap one collision:
“The first incident at the start, I accept it, even if I think he saw me in the mirror. We are three wide [with Nico Hulkenberg], so I accept that, even if he squeezes me into the wall and that’s very dangerous and not professional.”
— 🏁 Dan Rigsby 🏁 (@Dan_Rigsby) August 27, 2017
“The first one was 100 percent my fault. I just have to accept that one and put my hand up. It was quite messy but it was all down to not having the right energy [setting] because when I looked in my mirrors after the corner everybody was really far behind, but then I moved to the right and Esteban was there. I totally didn’t see him at all if I’m honest.”
The second collision seemed a bit more calculated, and a small gesture from either driver could have prevented it, albeit for very different reasons. On lap 28, both drivers were on for points finishes and it looked like they could outscore Red Bull as Ricciardo was only running around in 4th at this point. As Ocon took to the inside to overtake Perez on the run to Eau Rouge, the Mexican clearly shut the door aggressively and damaged both cars, with Ocon without a front-wing and Perez limping with a rear-right puncture. They were lucky that the collision didn’t occur somewhere on the circuit in which it would have been easy to clear debris, because the resulting safety car was the only reason Force India would go on to score some points.
📻: "Box box, Checo, we're going to retire the car"
— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) August 27, 2017
Perez showed a lack of respect to his teammate in the incident. It wasn’t a legitimate defensive move, and certainly wasn’t racing. The squeeze was dangerous, and has finally convinced Force India to snatch away their drivers privileges of being allowed to race one another.
From Ocon’s perspective, the move, whilst ambitious, showed a bit of inexperience. Equipped with the knowledge that Perez hasn’t been the most accommodating teammate on track, the attempt to overtake would have been easier to execute if he’d lined the Mexican up through Eau Rouge and then passed him on the straight with DRS. At the same time, why shouldn’t he go for a gap that is there if he believes he has the momentum to do so on that part of the track?
What they said about the lap twenty-eight collision:
“I fully understand the point of Otmar, I mean how many points have we lost today because of it? We were running in a great position…it’s just a stupid manoeuvre and there was no reason to do that. How we can get the boss back with us? Just by showing we are progressing. It’s even worse for him [Perez] because he’s 28, he been seven years racing in F1, so I guess he has to think about what he does.
“You know, what’s the point in doing that? He just squeezed me into the wall at 300km/h, risking my life, risking his life for no reason and costing the team a lot of points. He’s supposed to be a professional driver and he didn’t show it today.”
Damage limitation today, we were having a good race until Perez tried to kill me 2 times! Anyway he didn't manage to do so ending up P9😉! pic.twitter.com/00kmub96B4
— Esteban Ocon (@OconEsteban) August 27, 2017
“The second incident I think Esteban was really optimistic, because there was no room for two cars. He had the whole straight to do the manoeuvre. It was just too much on the limit. It’s a shame that we touched because it ruined our race.”
After the race, Force India have taken the serious decision to retract the privileges of its drivers in terms of fighting fairly on-track. They have been incredibly lenient in this area up until now, how many other teams would maintain faith in their drivers after the clashes in Baku and at the Hungaroring? If something like the Baku clash had happened between the Toro Rosso drivers, a team principal like Franz Tost would have had their balls in a stew the night of the incident. It comes down to putting the team first, especially in the midfield, where every point can be the difference between good prize money and great prize money.
Force India’s chief operations officer Otmar Szafnauer has even stated that should this happen again, they will ban the culprit and replace him with another driver.
“If it happens again, we have to figure it out. We would have to start thinking about who we would stick in the car.
“In the future they’ll never have that opportunity [to race] again. We let them race up till now and if they can’t do that in a manner that is good for the team, then they won’t be racing anymore.
“They shouldn’t be coming together. We’ve given them the latitude to race and I’ve always said that, but we told them if a Baku-type incident happens again we’ll be calling races from the pit wall in the future.
“Once it gets to the point of safety margins and crashing into each other then we’ve got to take it into our hands.”
— Tercerequipo (@Tercer_Equipo) August 19, 2017
Force India are between a rock and a hard place at the minute, given that their drivers have both been solid so far when they haven’t collided. The team are convincingly on for their best points haul in a season, and could still challenge Red Bull at some remaining races, but had they kept the same driver policy, the question wouldn’t be: “Will they drop points through colliding with each other again?” It would be: “I wonder how many points they’re definitely going to lose this season as a result of doing nothing?”
Having a good inter-team rivalry is great for the sport, and the resulting drama at the team is entertaining to a degree, but this fan would rather see the most competitive team outside the “big three” working to its maximum, to see what it really is capable of this season.
The conclusion has to be that the decision to inorganically manage the drivers on-track is the correct one in this instance, and blame should be left at the door of the drivers for not having the vision beyond their own personal successes to bring the best result back for the team.