FIA race director Charlie Whiting says Esteban Ocon was within his rights to unlap himself against Max Verstappen in the Brazilian Grand Prix — but wrong to fight in doing so.
Ocon attempted to pass Verstappen around the outside into Turn 1 but failed to get the move completed and went wheel-to-wheel with the Red Bull toward Turn 2. Verstappen turned toward the apex of the second corner and Ocon hit his right rear corner, spinning both cars and earning the Force India driver a ten-second stop and go penalty.
Explaining the punishment, Whiting says the manner in which Ocon attempted to get past race leader Verstappen was the main reason the stewards took severe action.
“He’s absolutely allowed to unlap himself,” Whiting said. “That’s clear. It’s happened many times in the past. Of course you expect it to be done safely, but more to the point, I think it should be done cleanly and absolutely without fighting. You shouldn’t be fighting to get past.
“If he’s got the pace, then normally one would expect Red Bull to say Ocon’s got the pace, just let him through, that sort of thing. But it seemed that he just went for it, and it was just a bit unfortunate that he decided to fight for it which was wholly unacceptable.
“I don’t think it makes any difference that he was the leader. It makes it worse in a lot of people’s eyes, but as far as the stewards are concerned, that doesn’t matter.”
After a hearing over both drivers’ conduct with the stewards in the FIA garage — when Verstappen was given two days of public service for pushing Ocon — the Force India driver took to Instagram to explain his version of events, accompanying a written statement with images of other moves he had pulled off at the same corner.
“I’m very sorry for Max, crashing with a lapped car should never happen, it was his race to win,” Ocon wrote. “But on my side I got told to un-lap myself as I was quicker on a fresh set, and it was not an option to lift in the straight line. It is an unfortunate incident and of course we don’t want to see those things happen…”