Max Verstappen and Esteban Ocon came to blows at the Brazilian Grand Prix after a race-defining clash between the two drivers half-way through the race.
Having done all the hard work, taken the lead of the race from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton only a couple of laps earlier, Verstappen found himself under unexpected pressure from Ocon, who had already been lapped.
Ocon – a Mercedes junior driver in a Mercedes-powered car – was on fresh supersoft tyres and driving a car which had been threatening to top the speeds charts all weekend.
With a strong exit from the final corner, Ocon enjoyed a speed advantage over the Dutchman as they crossed the line to start lap 44. Ocon tried to drive around the outside of Verstappen into turn one, before attempting a pass on the inside of turn two.
With Verstappen not anticipating a move, the Red Bull driver took a normal racing line into turn two, and the pair came together, spinning them both off the circuit.
Damage was done to both cars, but both could continue, albeit with Verstappen down to second and five seconds behind Hamilton and with Ocon having to serve a ten-second stop & go penalty.
Verstappen went on to close the gap to Hamilton, but the damage was already done, and the Mercedes driver held on to take his tenth win of the season.
Visibly frustrated, Verstappen made his way to the FIA weigh bridge garage and confronted Ocon, pushing him three times before storming off. He also made a swift exit from the podium celebrations after picking up his second place trophy.
When asked by Motorsport.com to explain the post-race shoving, Verstappen said: “I don’t really have lots to comment on that, except that he was being a p***y.”
“We had a great car today,” added Verstappen after the race. “I’m very happy with that, the strategy was also working really well. We could do our own pace until I got taken out.
“I think a penalty says enough. If the stewards give him a penalty you know who was wrong in that situation.
“You can easily say afterwards that I have much more to lose than him but I’m just trying to do my race.
“Suddenly a backmarker is trying to race you and taking a stupid risk to dive inside. What can I do about it?
“The penalty for me is that I lost the victory but hopefully in 15 years time we can laugh about it.”
Ocon defended himself afterwards, and said that his old Formula Three rival was “not professional” and “has always been the same”.
“The rules say you are allowed to unlap yourself if you’re faster,” said Ocon. “That’s what I did on the second lap. I still saw I had massive pace. I went around the outside of him. That’s the same move I did on Fernando, the same move I did on many other drivers.”
“But what I’m really surprised is the behaviour of Max coming into the scales. The FIA having to stop him being violent, pushing me and wanting to punch me. That is not professional.
“[But] I’m used to the fights with Max. He’s always been the same. It goes back a few years.”
Both drivers were summoned to the stewards after their altercation following the race, and the pair were seen shaking hands in the paddock afterwards.
However, Verstappen was found to be in breach of FIA International Sporting Code and “is required to perform two days of public service at the direction of the FIA within six months of the incident.”
Fanning the conspiracy theory claims was Red Bull’s Motorsport Advisor Helmut Marko, who failed to ignore the fact that Ocon is a Mercedes junior driver, and believes that he has been promised a Mercedes seat for 2020.
“A Mercedes driver, who is promised a seat for 2020, that crashes into the leading car — unbelievable,” Marko told Germany’s Motorsport-Magazin. “They should have told him ‘this is the leader, he has new tyres, don’t attack him.’
“And then this idiot gets a ten-second penalty. I would have expected a race ban.”
On BBC 5 Live former F1 driver Jolyon Palmer also said that the only logical conclusion was that Ocon’s Mercedes allegiance had played a part in what he described as one of the worst pieces of driving he had seen in F1.
However, many believed that this was merely a continuation of their rivalry in the junior categories.
They raced against each other in karting and were front-runners in FIA Formula 3, with Ocon taking the 2014 title ahead of Verstappen. While Verstappen has a shot at winning races and races and titles with Red Bull, Ocon faces a frustrating 2019 season on the sidelines.
“There is a lot of history between those drivers,” Horner said, attempting to play down the incident.
“It goes right back to karting. We don’t know what words were exchanged between them. We don’t condone violence but you have to understand emotions – you’ve had a victory taken away from you and they are running high.
“Of course there is a human reaction in these competitive animals. Emotions occasionally boil over.”
Whether Ocon has a seat at Mercedes in 2020 lined up, replacing Bottas, or not, Mercedes senior management will be dismayed by what happened in Brazil, coming on top of the clashes with his Force India team mate Perez at Spa and Baku last year.
Verstappen should undoubtedly have handled the situation on track and afterwards differently, but it’s a real no-no for a back marker to take out the leader of a Grand Prix and raises questions about his in race decision-making.
By: Luke Murphy and James Allen
All images: Motorsport Images
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