Force India threaten return of team orders after ‘unacceptable’ first-lap collision
They had a number of heated exchanges on track last season that resulted in team orders being enforced. And Force India Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer has threatened to rein in drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon again, after their costly first-lap collision at a tense Singapore Grand Prix…
The Silverstone squad were expecting a strong result at Marina Bay on Sunday, with their superb qualifying exploits putting Perez and Ocon seventh and ninth on the grid. But disaster struck just moments after the start.
As they fought for position heading to Turn 3, Ocon – who was quick off the line – looked to make a move on Perez on the outside. But his team mate didn’t appear to give the Frenchman enough room, and the two pink cars came together.
The result was Ocon crashing into the Singapore barriers, ending his race before it had even got going, while Perez was able to carry on.
Though it's the first time this season that such an incident has happened, last year similar episodes in Azerbaijan, Hungary and Belgium led to team orders being enforced – and an unimpressed Szafnauer says the pair may have to be told they can’t race each other again.
“It’s unacceptable for them to come together like that in an area where there is no run-off room,” said Szafnauer. “They have got to leave each other room. The team is more important than any one individual.
“We will have to go back to the rules we instilled on them last year if that is what they’re going to do, then we'll have to take control from here. Once they’re in the car it’s hard to control what they do. But prior to that, we can control it.
“It’s been over a year since it last happened. It wasn’t Baku last year that we instilled the rules, it was after Spa if you remember. From Spa until here it hasn’t happened.
“We’re back to the old rules, we allowed them to race on lap one whereas in the past we didn’t allow them to race on lap one. Now we can remove that. If they continue to do this even on lap 1 then there’s other ways to seperate them that we hope we never have to employ.”
And it seems Szafnauer has put the blame on Perez, believing the Mexican should have had the awareness to ensure enough room was given to his team mate.
“You say to him that is unacceptable. There’s enough room on the left-hand side that I could see. You’ve got to give your team mate enough room.
“If it’s somebody else, if it’s not your team mate, then it’s a racing incident. But if it’s your team mate you’ve got to give them enough room.”
The drivers have their say…
Both Ocon and Perez were also visibly frustrated when quizzed by the media on the incident. The latter – who was later handed a five-second penalty for a clash with Williams' Sergey Sirotkin – claimed the impact with his team mate was ‘very hard to avoid’.
“It was a very unfortunate incident,” said Perez. “One of those which are very hard to avoid. As I was picking up the power, I got a clip from one car – I didn’t realise it was Esteban. As I get the message for the team, I was very sorry for that. A very hard day for us.
“I’m just very sorry for the day the team have had in general. I wish I could have seen Esteban there or done something differently there. A tough day for us, especially after such a good day yesterday. But this is racing. Hopefully we can improve over the next races and get better points.”
While Perez – who finished down in 16th – seemingly refused to accept the blame, Ocon believes it was his move to make, and labelled the outcome as ‘terrible’.
“I’m not going to analyse what happened [now],” said Ocon. “I had a great start and a great opportunity with good grip to go around Checo. The next thing I felt was a hit and I was in the wall.
“What I’m going to analyse is that we had a great pace the whole weekend. It was supposed to be a great weekend for both of us. Right now I’m talking when the race isn’t over but we are going to come out of this weekend with zero points. That’s terrible.”
A frustrating night, then, for Force India, with midfield rivals Renault and McLaren picking up important points finishes in Singapore. But they’ll be more concerned about their driver battles – and it's certainly one to keep an eye on over the coming days…