“What the hell? Why is that? I’m on fresher tires and I would have caught him anyway!” – “We’ll discuss this in the office, please swap.” – Pierre Gasly was annoyed about a stable order from Alpine at the Japanese Grand Prix. On the last lap he had to let his teammate Esteban Ocon pass.
The former Red Bull driver followed the instructions, but is very frustrated. In his opinion, this was not agreed upon. His team and Ocon see it completely differently. The instruction was completely logical.
So what was going on with Team Alpine? Ocon, who started the race from 14th place on the grid, was involved in a collision right at the start and suffered a puncture. Thanks to the safety car, he managed to catch up with the field again. He got rid of the medium-hard tire when he stopped for repairs; he was supposed to finish the race on hard.
On lap 28 he made his only regular stop to apply another set of the C1 compound, the hardest compound available in the Pirelli contingent. With this sentence he should finish the race – almost half the distance.
Gasly didn’t get off to a good start from P12 and initially lost positions, but then made up place after place, also thanks to pit stops by drivers who started on the soft tires. He drove the medium-hard C2 until the 18th lap, then he switched to the hard tire compound. Already on lap 34 he stopped again for a set C1. As a result, he fell behind Ocon.
He closed the gap of almost ten seconds within ten laps with six laps of younger tires. Ocon pulled aside and let Gasly pass. He accepted the place with the words: “Okay, I’ll try Alonso.” The Aston Martin driver, whose tires were nine laps older than Gasly’s (and even three laps older than Ocon’s C1), was a further nine seconds ahead of Gasly in eighth place.
Lightning hits Gasly out of the blue
Even this change of place happened somewhat reluctantly, because Ocon made sure first. “If he doesn’t get the position, he’ll give it back, right? Can you confirm that?” he radioed his engineer Josh Peckett before letting him pass. Gasly, on the other hand, didn’t ask about it and wasn’t told about it – a refund was obviously out of the question for him.
He quickly caught up with Alonso, but not quickly enough. With two laps to go, the gap was still four seconds – too much to catch up on our own. So on the penultimate lap, the Frenchman received instructions from his race engineer Karel Loos to let Ocon pass again.
He was completely shocked and objected with the opening sentence. When he was told to change places anyway, he replied: “Are you serious? I started ahead of him and was in the lead the whole race.” Loos replied: “The instruction comes from the pit wall. Please change in turn 16.”
After crossing the finish line, Gasly was instructed not to say anything more. Accordingly, he remained silent for the entire run-out lap. It was only when he entered the Parc Ferme, when he received instructions about where to park his car, that he remarked sarcastically: “Yes, we’ll stop here. I understand. I understand what you’re doing.”
After the race he noted: “This wasn’t discussed before the race. With the strategy they had planned, it was clear that Esteban would eventually undercut me, but my pace was better and I would have him [auch ohne Teamorder] overtaken because I had fresher tires. There was never any talk of us having to swap positions because I started at the front and was always at the front.”
“Tenth and ninth or ninth and tenth is the same for a team, but I definitely didn’t expect that. And I don’t really understand it either because I was the front car. We’ll have to talk about it.”
Team disagrees: Everything is normal
Interim team boss Bruno Famin sees it completely differently: “In order to achieve the best team result, we left Pierre ahead of Esteban in order to have the chance to overtake Fernando, even if it was slim. That was [am Ende] not possible, so it’s completely normal to exchange back.”
The discussions with Gasly will therefore revolve around the question of whether communication should have been clearer. “That’s the point we have to investigate in order to be completely transparent. I don’t know when exactly what was said. We have to clarify that.”
“Sometimes we have communication problems because the radio signal is not that good. Or sometimes the engineer thinks he has made himself clear, but the driver may not have understood because he was concentrating on something else.”
“So we have to check whether the driver understood the information correctly. Either way, the maneuver was carried out in the interest of the team and I have no doubt that both drivers agree with it.”
“If we have to do it differently in the next races, they will do it. They know that and there are no tensions. It’s just about executing the race.”
He emphasizes that there are no problems between the drivers and that he understands that they are fighting for the best possible personal result. “That’s ultimately what they’re paid for. But they’re also paid to achieve the best team result.”
“Of course, under the stress of the race, we may make a few statements that are a bit harsh, but I have absolutely no doubt that the drivers are on the same page.”
Ocon: That’s how it’s always been done
At least they weren’t immediately after the race. Esteban Ocon says: “I’ve been in this team for four years now. And the rule has always been: If a driver gets the position, he has to take the place in front of him to keep it.” In this case it was Alonso in eighth place.
“Otherwise you just give the place back to your teammate. We’ve always done it that way. If I’m on the other side, of course I’ll do that too.” Even though he prefers the real fight on the track, he adds.
“I’m more of an old-school guy and would never ask to swap positions. But I also understand the point of view of the team, which tried to take Fernando’s position to get more points. Unfortunately, we didn’t succeed .”
He doesn’t accept the argument that Gasly was the faster car in this case because of the younger tires: “That’s not really relevant. You can be as fast as you want. If you don’t carry that out on the track, you know never who is ahead of the other. And until then I was ahead. Of course we will discuss what we could have done better.”
He emphasizes that this rule already existed during the times of Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso and that it was also applied. He himself is not a child of sadness when it comes to this question: At the sprint race in Brazil in 2022, there was an inconsistency with Fernando Alonso, for which both drivers were heavily criticized by the then team boss Otmar Szafnauer.