Force India’s civil war
The conflicting ambitions of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez meant the imposition of team orders was deemed necessary to preserve fourth in the constructors’ championship
Force India faced the biggest challenge of its 10-year existence when Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez collided not once but twice on the fast run down to Eau Rouge during this summer’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Ocon said Perez “risked my life in there, at 300km/h down to Eau Rouge” before later tweeting: “We were having a good race until Perez tried to kill me two times!” Perez defended himself and pointed the finger back at Ocon.
Tensions between the duo, partnered for the first time this season, had been building all year. They had rowed in Canada in June, when Perez refused to allow Ocon through to challenge for a podium position, and then collided spectacularly and lost a probable podium in Azerbaijan. They clashed again in Hungary, with Ocon admitting he would be more careful when battling Perez wheel-to-wheel in future. And then they banged wheels again in Belgium.
That was the final straw – Force
India could take it no more. The pair were hauled into a meeting with senior management and told in no uncertain terms that the kind of behaviour shown by them in
Belgium would not be tolerated.
It was made clear that the team came first, and that fourth place in the constructors’ championship was the priority, with the associated prize money crucial for the squad’s development. Until further notice, Ocon and Perez would no longer be free to race each other on track and would be required to abide by team orders. Both agreed to comply.
“They are both smart guys and they have learned their lesson,” says chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer. “Our philosophy here is always to maximise the team potential, and we have to do what it takes. Usually, letting them race and go as fast as they can maximises the team potential. But when they start crashing into each other a lot then it doesn’t maximise the team potential, so we have to do something different.”
The two drivers met at Monza one-to-one to discuss the incident and agreed to shake hands and move on. Over the subsequent races their relationship thawed, with Mercedes protege Ocon seeking and acting on advice from his boss Toto Wolff on how to deal with the situation, given that Wolff had recent experience of a similar scenario with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Ocon admits that he and Perez will