Force India’s Esteban Ocon has been given a three-place grid penalty for the Japanese Grand Prix after failing to slow sufficiently for red flags in final practice.
Ocon was caught out after Nico Hulkenberg crashed out of FP3 on Saturday and was found to have gone too fast despite significantly reducing his speed. This year Formula One implemented a ‘delta time’ drivers must follow during red-flag periods, a theoretical lap time that drivers can monitor within the cockpit.
F1 data showed Ocon, who went on to qualify eighth later in the day, had been in breach of that time for three ‘mini-sectors’ of the circuit, which the Frenchman put down to a confusion over the beeps he was hearing in his ear — those noises are usually a signal to a driver that they need to increase their pace.
“I was expecting the delta,” Ocon said after qualifying. “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 go two seconds faster than the delta time for too long of a period and 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. So first it’s that.
“We got penalised which is totally normal, it’s the rule.”
Explaining how the delta system worked, he said: “You have to go slow, when it’s red flag you have to go slow. But basically the delta time is a virtual car speed which is very slow, maybe 25, 30 seconds slower than normal time. And I went two and a half seconds quicker than that delta time for five, six seconds, basically. Those five, six seconds they penalised me on.”
Ocon acknowledged the infringement when he visisted the stewards and explained the misunderstanding with the beeps, but was still given a penalty.
The race stewards explained that decision by saying: “In the end, given the importance of observance of the speed restrictions while red flags are being shown and recognising the limited extent of the breach, we decided to impose the above penalty.”
Ocon was also handed two penalty points on his superlicence. Any driver who accumulates 12 over a rolling 12-month period is handed an automatic race ban — the two given to Ocon are the only blemishes on his record in that time.
The penalty compounds what turned out to be a frustrating day for Ocon and his Force India team. Despite appearing to have the pace to be best of the rest, he and Sergio Perez finished the session eighth and tenth.
“We were fastest in all three practice and in Q1 as well we were quick, Q2 was good. What happened in Q3 was we went out, we were not sure if it was the right tyre to be on because the Ferrari went out on the inter, but it was the right tyre. So that was good. But we fueled up for more laps basically thinking the track was going to dry and out out-lap was dry, 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 as well, with both cars we did the same mistakes basically. We’ll try to analyse and come back stronger.”