The race at Interlagos was surprisingly interesting, with the top three teams having a shot at the podium. We were blessed with plenty of on-track battles and a variation of strategies. However, all eyes and ears were on the Verstappen-Ocon incident. Was Max right to be furious at Esteban? Was Esteban entitled to overtake and did he do it the right way?
Is the lapped driver allowed to pass?
The answer is definitely “yes”, also according to Hamilton, Whiting and Verstappen himself. A lapped car cannot just sit behind the leaders when there is a favorable difference in pace. However, everyone agrees that if such a maneuver is to take place, this should happen in a totally safe way. The catch, though, is this…
The one who ultimately decides whether there is an actual fight for position is the defending driver. In this case: Max Verstappen.
Was Ocon indeed quicker? By how much?
Ocon had pitted on Lap 41 for fresh Super Soft tyres (red). Verstappen had pitted on Lap 35, for the Soft tyre (yellow).
Ocon’s last lap before the crash was 1:12.876 (Lap 42).
Verstappen’s last lap before the crash was 1:13.116 (Lap 43 – directly compared with Ocon, as he was one lap ahead)
Verstappen’s previous laps were 1:13.650 (Lap 41) 1:13.340 (Lap 42).
So, while Ocon is right to believe he had an edge on Verstappen, the difference was not as big as many would have thought. A 0.3-0.5 secs difference per lap is not a huge margin, unless all of it is gained at a specific sector of the track.
Ocon tried the move at the end of the main straight and just managed to get on the side of Verstappen in the brakes. Esteban had a top speed of 345.8 km/h, compared to Max’s 334.1 km/h. Given that both drivers had managed to use DRS and slipstream during the race, the numbers are quite a fair comparison for the true potential of the cars.
All in all… Ocon knew he had the edge over Verstappen in the straight and probably his lap time advantage was to be gained at this exact sector. As it turned out, although he was ultimately entitled to unlap himself, the advantage was not huge and he needed Verstappen to definitely yield for the pass.
Did Ocon fight for the unlap?
Ocon did not attack fiercely. He took the outside line at Turn 1 and, subsequently, carried the more risk. Verstappen was the one who decided to move to the inside of Turn 1, indicating he was not willing to yield. Ocon did not push Verstappen at any point and even tried to avoid him, moving his entire car on the inside kerb at Turn 2, before the contact.
The actual crash
Ocon takes the outside at Turn 1 and gets himself very well placed for Turn 2. He manages to get the inside, in total control of the line and even going further in onto the kerb when Verstappen squeezes him.
When Verstappen begins the turn-in, Ocon is clearly on the side of the Red Bull and at the moment of impact his front left wheel is at Verstappen’s sidepod. This clearly covers the “significant portion” of the car that the FIA has historically raised as a deciding factor on judging whether the opponent has to give you the space.
If this were a normal battle for position, Verstappen would have been at total fault. Ocon did not overshoot the corner and was already there on the inside when Max turned in. It is all a matter of whether Ocon was entitled to unlap (based on his speed difference with Max) and if he did it in a safe way. Given that he took all the risk on himself, going on the outside of Turn 1 and also taking into account that Verstappen changed his line to defend, this is a tough one, but Verstappen is more to blame than he wanted everyone to believe. At the same time, Ocon was not holding a huge advantage over Verstappen in order to have an easy, clean pass, without his opponent’s consensus.
You can’t invent fixed penalties for this, since it is mostly a matter of communication between the drivers and is also affected by the information that is passed to the driver by the team. A good solution to the problem would be a more direct channel between the teams and the FIA, so that a driver is warned that such a maneuver is imminent.