Monza, 2 Sept 2017: Coming out of a dirty duel with teammate and senior driver Sergio Perez after incidents of clashing at high speeds and forcing Sahara Force India team management to invoke team orders, young Esteban Ocon put in a stunning lap in difficult rain conditions to take fifth position in the delayed qualifying session 3 but will start on P3 after both the Red Bulls got grid penalties for engine-related issue
s. Thus Ocon raises hopes of a first podium which can help him get the new Mercedes engine which is expected for the Singapore race.
The Indian outfit enjoyed a strong afternoon in Monza as Esteban Ocon teammate will start from P9 after he qualified in P11. With a best lap time of 1: 37.719 in Q3, Esteban will have Lance Stroll’s Williams (P2) and Hamilton’s Mercedes in front. If all goes well, the Frenchman, who’s part of the Mercedes Driver Development programme that put him on path to F1 a couple of years back, will be on path for a podium, in his first full season, if he can manage the race well. But for the Development Programme, I would have been a mechanic, Ocon was reported saying last week.
After clashing twice in Belgium with his senior and experienced teammate, the Frenchman tweeted alleging that the Mexican attempted to `kill him’ twice. But the young driver’s enormous potential came to the fore as he already put a huge gap to Perez who will be starting way behind him.
With the race expected to be wet, Ocon might opt for a single stop and try to move at least a place up beating Lance Stroll, the youngest-ever driver on the front row.
Driving the VJM10-04, Esteban said: “A great qualifying session. I’m really happy for everybody in the team. We knew there was an opportunity for us this afternoon and I’m so pleased we could take it. I always enjoy driving in the wet and the conditions today were really challenging. The car felt great; there was a really nice balance and I have to say a big thank you to the team for all their hard work. We will need to fight hard tomorrow because there are quick cars all around us, but I believe we can score some really big points and I’ll be aiming for the podium.”
Mercedes are expected to supply two updated engines for the last race at Spa but that has been delayed till Singapore due to some production issues of reliability as reported by www.motorsport.com. And they will be getting only one engine and the team is likely to give the advantage to the driver who is ahead in points. However, today’s run might change things for Ocon.
Perez who missed Q3 said: “It’s been a very long afternoon and I am happy the fans got a good show in the end after waiting in the rain for so long. The conditions on track were difficult; there was a lot of standing water and the cars were aquaplaning a lot, so I think Charlie [Whiting] did the right thing by postponing the session. The conditions were changing all the time and it was very important to be on the right tyres at the right moment. In Q2, we took the decision to change from wets to inters and I only had two laps to try and make it happen. In the end, I missed out by two thousandths: it’s not ideal, but it was the best we could do today. It was not a perfect lap – I went a bit too wide at Ascari and I got very close to Ricciardo ahead of me, and that compromised me a little. These small margins were enough to miss out on the top ten. We’ll be moving up on the grid with a few penalties and I hope to make up some more positions tomorrow.”
The team looks optimistic of a podium with Bob Fernley, Deputy Team Principal, saying: “After such a long day it’s satisfying to end the qualifying session on a high. Esteban made it through to Q3 and will start the race from third on the grid. He made the most of the wet conditions and we have a great chance to fight for a podium tomorrow. Sergio was a bit unlucky to miss the top ten shootout by a couple of thousandths, but starting from ninth gives him a good chance to demonstrate the speed of the car and bring home points too.”
It looks like both the drivers were advised to be diplomatic and the drivers bowed to the team orders and made no silly comments on each other at the Thursday Press Conference. However, the press meet would have been quite difficult for the 20-year old Ocon, but he said that facing a battery of questions from the media is part of the job and we should be prepared for it. However, in a tweet he also revealed that Perez has apologised which was not discussed anywhere on the official platform.
That puts things under control and both the drivers have realised that damage has been done to both the team and their individual reputation and have decided to be more `professional’ moving forward. Esteban is currently in 8th position in the Driver Standings with 47 points, nine less than the 56 garnered by teammate Perez, who is ahead in 7th place. The team is well ahead of Williams with 103 points in fourth place but are way behind Red Bull which is in third place with 199 points. Williams have 45 points but a good result today for Stroll might negate any good work by Ocon.
All said and done, the Force India drivers seem to have made peace and the team, if it can deliver a proper tyre and pit-stop strategy, big points are expected from the weekend.