'It was more racing than qualifying' - Ocon and Raikkonen give their views on manic Q1 battle
Last year’s qualifying session in Italy ended with farcical scenes in Q3 – and this year’s session saw similar shenanigans in Q1, with Renault’s Esteban Ocon and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen going at it like it was the final lap of the Grand Prix, rather than the shootout for pole.
The trouble began as the drivers played cat and mouse as they prepared for their final runs in Q1 when, similar to last year, all of them were keen to get in position to catch a speed-boosting tow from a rival. Fed up with the queue of cars ahead of him, Raikkonen began to overtake cars, and ended up starting his lap right behind Ocon, who steadfastly stood his ground as they lapped closely.
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Raikkonen angrily accused the Frenchman of blocking him over Team Radio, and both were called to the stewards after the session – though no further action was taken. But Ocon, who ended up qualifying 12th, two places ahead of Raikkonen, resolutely defended his behaviour.
“Q1 was more racing than qualifying, so that was not good,” he said. “Obviously with the new rule [a lap time put in place by the FIA to ensure no one goes too slowly] it’s tight for everyone with those delta times, and we are trying to get a good gap to the car in front which is normal.
“Obviously Kimi was fighting. You know if he goes into the inside of me and passes me both our laps are ruined, so I did what I had to do which is keep the car in front.”
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Having branded Ocon an "idiot" as he raged during the session, Raikkonen was more philosophical afterwards.
“Sometimes it happens like that. It really depends where you end up and what you have to do. And then we end up so close to each other for many corners. It’s not the first time and it sure won’t be the last time that it happens. It’s kind of more of a race situation after that. That’s how it goes sometimes.
“All the rest is ok. Obviously it’s not ideal for any of us, but that’s what happens. [The Ocon defence] was a bit squeezing you off, but the laps were down at that point.”
Running behind Ocon and Raikkonen, in the thick of his own battle with Ferrari Sebastian Vettel, was Williams’ George Russell, who was unequivocal in his thoughts:
“It’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous," he said, shaking his head. "I don’t know what’s going on to be honest - why everyone just sends their cars at exactly the same time. It’s inevitable what’s going to happen. There is going to be a crash. People trying to overtake, defend, people going slow ahead to try to mess it up for everyone behind… It was just ridiculous.”
So, after a practice run in qualifying, expect the real squabbling for position to get even more competitive in Sunday’s Grand Prix…