Intra-team battles set to spice up Azerbaijan
While Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have manged to conduct their fight at Mercedes with restraint and mutual respect, and Sebastian Vettel seems to have Ferrari partner Kimi Raikkonen under control in races, Force India and Toro Rosso have varyingly different prospects for intra-team acrimony which could enliven this weekend’s race on the streets of Baku.
During the last round in Canada Sergio Perez refused requests to let team mate Esteban Ocon past, the team’s thinking being that the Frenchman, on much fresher tyres, might have a better chance of attacking Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo ahead.
But as the pink cars battled it out between themselves, Vettel passed them both, leaving them fifth and sixth, instead of potentially having shot at third.
Distinctly unamused at the time, Ocon had said over the radio as Perez resisted his attack: “He can’t do that, that’s not fair racing at all!”
On Thursday in Azerbaijan the public relations machine had moved to smooth away the edges of any spat, though deputy team principal Bob Fernley amiably conceded that the situation could become ‘a handful’ later in the season.
Perez has been doing a fantastic job for the team since he was dropped by McLaren, progressing his career and showing the sort of form that many feel could earn him the ride at Ferrari alongside Vettel in 2018. But Ocon’s remarkable progress since leaving Manor and joining Force India this year seems to have got him rattled.
"He hasn't disappointed,” Fernley said of the ‘new kid’. “If anything he has overperformed, so in the second half of the season it is going to be quite a handful."
Perez said yesterday that the team have decided against team orders, even though some would argue that he already decided that in Canada.
"We had a couple of discussions, one after the race, one during the week," Perez declared. "The policy of the team is that if we are in the same situation they will do exactly the same thing - so they will let us race again; no team orders. They felt there was no need to do team orders.”
Ocon is a driver in the Daniel Ricciardo mould. Yesterday he smiled politely and said that he had spoken with his team mate by phone in the week and that all was well between them.
“At that moment I had a different strategy than Sergio. I did push on the first stint a bit later, so I changed my tyres later than Sergio and I was a bit quicker. But the team took the decision to let us race, both, which is respectable, and great also to see that they trust us and let us race. So no, we had a good discussion after the race in the debrief. And I also called Sergio during the week when everyone was relaxed, and discussed our points. We’re all good now. All set for a new weekend and there is no tension between us.”
Meanwhile, over at Toro Rosso, the tension between Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz is there for all to see after they disagreed in Canada about helping each other to go faster by providing a slipstream ‘tow’.
Sainz suggested Kvyat had disrespected a team agreement on the tactic, but the Russian countered that it was policy to take it in turns, race to race, and that he should have been the beneficiary in Montreal.
"What I see from the qualifying data is zero gain for me in the tow,” Kvyat said before yesterday’s press conference, in which he fell back on the usual thing about everything being kept in-house. "In Baku he would have been getting a tow, but now I'm not sure I really want to collaborate in qualifying anymore. From my side everything is as clear as the sky, absolutely clear.
"If he has some questions to me, he's more than free to come and talk to me, if he's brave enough. If he's not brave enough, he'll come and talk to you guys and send hidden messages to the media all the time."
Sainz, meanwhile, maintained that the matter had been dealt with and aired after Canada.
"I prefer not to talk," he said. "That will stay inside the team. I expressed my opinion and my thoughts about the situation, which at that point I thought it was clearly unfair towards me, especially in this kind of track.”
Intra-team battles are good box office, so keep an eye on what happens with both these teams this weekend, not least in Toro Rosso’s case because Baku boasts a massive 2.1 km main straight, perfect for getting one of your drivers to give the other a valuable tow…