Esteban Ocon says his five-second penalty for forcing Sebastian Vettel off the track during the Italian Grand Prix was unfair based on the precedent set by Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 clash at the same corner in 2019.
Ocon’s penalty was for an incident on lap 15 when he defended approaching the second chicane, then moved to the right and squeezed Vettel’s Aston Martin beyond the track limits.
It was similar to the 2019 incident, which resulted in Hamilton taking to the escape road and earned Leclerc no penalty, although he was shown a black-and-white driving standards warning flag.
This was one of two penalties Ocon complained about, although the first was not strictly a penalty given it was an instruction to cede a 10th place to Williams driver Nicholas Latifi having been deemed to have got ahead of him thanks to cutting the second chicane on lap one.
“A P7 or P6 would have been possible today, so it’s a bit frustrating with the incidents that happened on track, the penalties,” said Ocon. “I say penalties because it’s two penalties, not one.
“One was off the start with having to give the position back to Nicholas, but four laps after the start [the change came on lap seven] when we’ve settled in a rhythm already, and it [the instruction] took quite a lot of time to come.
“Then with Sebastian is a racing action, it’s not really a racing incident because the same happened to Charles and Lewis in 2019 and there was no action taken.
“We have no damage on the car, nothing really happened and it cost me a good three places, I would say.”
Ocon’s move did violate the rule laid out in Appendix L of the FIA’s International Sporting Code, which states “any driver moving back towards the racing line, having earlier defended his position off-line, should leave at least one car width between his own car and the edge of the track on the approach to the corner”.
But when it was suggested to him that it appeared a clearcut violation of that rule, Ocon again cited the precedent of the 2019 incident.
“We’re side by side, a bit too close, but basically the track narrows once you arrive on braking,” said Ocon when asked by The Race about the car’s width rule.
“I didn’t really move the steering wheel but it’s just that the track just narrows and that’s what happened exactly with Charles and Lewis.
“And if that incident didn’t have any penalties or things like that, then mine shouldn’t have as well because it’s two of the same thing.
“I normally agree with the stewards but that time, I disagree with both I have to say.”
While Ocon’s invoking of the 2019 clash is understandable, FIA race director Michael Masi said that discussions after that established that a five-second penalty would have been the better decision.
“In 2019 did a complete discussion with all of the drivers, team principals and sporting directors,” said Masi of the Leclerc/Hamilton incident.
“And it was deemed in that situation that probably a five-second penalty would have been better than a black and white. So exactly what came about [for Ocon/Vettel].”
Ocon, who was spending a season on the sidelines as Mercedes reserve driver in 2019, admitted that he didn’t recall the fallout from the incident.
“I don’t remember,” said Ocon.
“It has been two years and I was not racing as well, so I can’t really tell you what’s been what’s been said in the in the drivers’ meeting.”
Ocon also felt that the incident when he overtook Latifi had been misread and that he had completed his pass on the Williams driver before being forced to cut the track to avoid an incident.
“In the case of Nicholas, the overtaking was done before the braking zone because Nicky was basically stopped behind another car on the inside, so I just went on the outside,” said Ocon.
“I could have made the corner but Fernando lost the rear and that made me avoid what could have happened in front, so I took the decision to cut the corner on the inside.
“So I gained an advantage because I passed Fernando, but I gave back the position to Fernando straight away. I’ve released the throttle and you can clearly see that I’ve given him the position because he’s 80km/h faster.”
Red Bull driver Sergio Perez was also hit with a five-second penalty that relegated him from third-on-the-road to fifth in the final results.
His team principal Christian Horner described that decision as “tough” given the stewards didn’t ask them to give the place back.
“That was tough,” said Horner.
“We were expecting a call from the stewards to say, if they weren’t happy with it, ‘give it back’. Of course, the call didn’t come.
“And then when eventually the penalty comes up, the gaps aren’t opening.
That was tough for him today. He drove a good race today, and third on the road, fifth overall, was a frustrating result for him.”
Masi confirmed that Red Bull did not ask for guidance on the pass and that the team was evaluating the incident itself.
“They didn’t ask race control,” said Masi.
“I suggested to them that they may want to look at giving the position back and they said they were looking at it themselves.”
Leclerc, who was classified ahead of Perez thanks to staying within five seconds, admitted he was surprised Perez stayed ahead after the pass and that it was a clear penalty.
“I was surprised because I arrived into Turn 4, knowing he was on my outside and that he was trying to make a move work,” said Leclerc.
“And actually mid-corner I slowed down my car because I was just expecting him to stay around the outside and just overtake me. But then I saw him cut the track and I had left him a space.
“So I was a bit confused and I was pretty sure he would let me pass after that, but obviously he didn’t. So I think it was quite clear.”