Sebastian Vettel will start the Japanese Grand Prix from eighth place after a grid penalty for Esteban Ocon dropped the Force India driver out of the top ten.
Nico Hulkenberg’s crash at the end of FP3 brought out the red flags with three minutes of the session remaining, but Ocon did not stay below the target lap time when returning to the pits and was summoned to the stewards after the end of qualifying. Ocon had originally qualified in eighth place — one position ahead of Vettel after a Ferrari strategic error — but was handed a three-place grid penalty for the FP3 incident that will drop him to 11th.
“It was a red flag, and I was going to come in,” Ocon explained. “I was expecting the delta. I passed the incident of Nico and so was going quite slow. I started having some beeps — I got confused with the beeps because normally in qualifying when you have the beeps for the delta time you have to go faster.
“Basically I just went two seconds faster than the delta time for too long of a period. I slowed down again and got told a bit too late I was going too fast. It was a mistake from my side, a bit of a mistake from the team side as well not to tell me in time. We got penalized, which is totally normal; it’s the rule.”
The delta time is up to 30 seconds slower than a normal lap and Ocon was only over that mark for around six seconds, but was more frustrated by Force India’s failure to capitalize on strong pace in qualifying.
“We definitely had the pace for fifth really. We were fastest in all three practice sessions and in Q1 as well we were quick, Q2 was good. What happened in Q3 was we went out (on supersofts), we were not sure if it was the right tire to be on because the Ferrari went out on the inter, but it was the right tire.
“So that was good. But we fueled up for more laps, basically thinking the track was going to dry and our out-lap was (quick), because we thought we would need a lot more temperature because the track might be damp and it was not.
“It was a bit too much panic and not good communication, so we are all a bit disappointed with what happened today. It was a bit similar with Sergio (Perez) as well, with both cars we did the same mistakes basically. We’ll try to analyze and come back stronger.”