Ocon concedes 'Ricciardo had better pace' after Renault swap drivers on track in Russia
Esteban Ocon's best finish since the Belgian Grand Prix came despite the fact he was swapped with Daniel Ricciardo by Renault on track during the race in Russia – but there were no hard feelings from the Frenchman who was instead left baffled by his car's pace on hard tyres at Sochi.
Ocon began seventh on soft tyres behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and got off the line well to get up to fourth by the end of Lap 1, pitting from there on Lap 18. But his next stint wasn’t so successful and after he spent several laps failing to get past Sebastian Vettel ahead of him, Renault swapped him and his team mate Ricciardo, who then overtook Vettel with relative ease on Lap 26.
“It was a very good start to the race,” explained Ocon. “I mean the start I got was very nice, I got up to fourth just behind Max [Verstappen]. The first stint was strong, I was almost having the pace of Max ahead, which was very promising but when we pitted to the hards [tyres], I don’t know.
“We lost grip, we lost balance in the car and everything seemed to be a bit more difficult. Couldn’t pass Seb, [we] let past Daniel – he had better pace – and then [the second stint] was not as strong as the first stint. Potentially a bit more points on the table for us, something we need to review, but overall [the race was] very good for the team and we are catching up in the constructors’ championship.”
However, Renault’s decision to swap their drivers could have backfired as Ricciardo locked up after passing his team mate, went off the track and was found to have rejoined improperly at Turn 2 – taking a five-second penalty for his troubles. He took responsibility for his mistake and rallied to finish fifth, behind Racing Point’s Sergio Perez.
“We were as quick as Checo on the hard but on the soft at the beginning he was quicker and I think he was out a bit longer as well [on softs], so that’s where he made the difference and that’s where he won fourth place," he said.
“I had five seconds' [penalty] and yeah, to be honest, I knew it was my mistake, so I said: ‘alright I’ll take the blame and I’ll just drive faster’. I think it’s a good attitude to have. I made a very good race of it at the end.”
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Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul was buoyed by the team's performance and the points them put them fifth – just five points behind Racing Point and seven behind McLaren – in the standings before the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
He said: “Daniel was really impressive in building the required gap to Leclerc to absorb the five-second penalty from going deep into Turn 2 when we swapped the cars to mitigate the time lost behind Vettel.
“Esteban, on his side, struggled a bit more with grip at times during the race, but was remarkable in defending from Kvyat for more than 20 laps and contributed to the overall team achievement.”