Esteban Ocon has been handed a three-place grid penalty for the Japanese Grand Prix after failing to slow down sufficiently when the red flags flew following Nico Hülkenberg’s crash in practice on Saturday morning, meaning he drops from eighth on the grid to eleventh.
The Racing Point Force India F1 Team racer had got through into the top ten shootout on Saturday at the Suzuka International Racing Course but was under investigation from the stewards for exceeding the minimum delta time across three mini sectors of the lap under red flag conditions, with the stewards deeming this was enough to warrant the penalty.
“The driver informed the Stewards, and the telemetry showed, that he had slowed down for the red flags,” read the stewards’ decision. “However, after Turn 4, he heard some beeps on the radio that suggested he was too slow and sped up briefly to regularize his speed.
“In doing so, he briefly exceeded the delta by a maximum of -1.68 [seconds] over three mini sectors. As a result, he had failed to maintain the speed delta required under the regulations, resulting in an infringement.
“He acknowledged the infringement and attributed it to confusion caused by the beeps and the system currently being used by the team in such situations. In the end, given the importance of observance of the speed restrictions while red flags are being shown and recognising the limited extend of the breach, we decided to impose the above penalty.”
Ocon was also handed two penalty points to his licence for the offence, but they are the first two in the past twelve months, so he is nowhere near the twelve points needed to earn himself a race ban.
The Frenchman admitted that Force India did not take the correct approach in Q3 in Japan, with the first attempt seeing him fuelled too heavily as the team expected conditions to improve following rain in Q2, but when they went out for a second run, the rain came back and made improving impossible for everyone.
“Eighth place is okay, but I’m not satisfied because we didn’t maximise our potential today,” said Ocon before his penalty was applied. “Our approach to Q3 meant we fuelled up for a few laps because we felt the track would dry up and keep improving.
“In reality the track was already quite dry right from the start of Q3 and that’s when the track was at its best, but we were heavy on fuel. Then, by the time we started our second run, the rain was getting heavier.
“Well done to the others who judged it better than us – that’s what can happen in those wet sessions. So I think we had the potential for more and I know we can be strong in the race. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”