A day to forget. Who, at work, hasn’t had to go through at least one in their life? Yesterday it happened to Esteban Ocon, author of a grand prix – the first of the season – to be set aside as soon as possible, but to keep in mind anyway to try to avoid repeating it in the future.
A sequence of mistakes, his and the team’s, which led him to accumulate many seconds of penalties and to conclude the Bahrain Grand Prix with a retirement 14 laps from the end of the 57 scheduled.
But let’s go in order. The black sequence that killed Ocon’s Sunday was triggered by a mistake by the French driver on the starting grid. After the formation lap, Esteban stopped his A523 further than expected.
On each square on the starting grid there is a sensor which has the function of detecting any errors by the pilots, from positioning to the jump start. Ocon’s mistake was noticed by the race direction and subsequently penalized by the marshals with 5 seconds.
When Ocon arrived in the pit lane to serve his punishment, just before making the pit stop, the second problem arose. The Alpine mechanics intervened on A523 number 31 before the 5 second penalty ended (to be precise, they intervened 0″4 from the end of the countdown). This early intervention thus triggered the violation of the regulation and the consequent 10 penalty seconds.
Otmar Szafnauer, Alpine team principal, explained that the error is all due to the countdown system, which started before the A523 stopped in the pit stop area.
“It was just a timing issue,” he said. “We have a system that counts down in the ears of the mechanics to tell them when they can go. The system has been offset by four tenths of a second.”
Esteban Ocon, Alpine A523, comes out of the pits after a stop
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
“The system started the countdown 0.4 seconds early. I need to see why that happened, but we should put in an offset, so it starts half a second late. That half second won’t kill us.”
All finished? Not even in a dream. Ocon, exiting the pit lane to regain the track after serving (in part) his penalty and making a pit stop, broke the speed limit imposed in the pit lane by just 0.1 km/h.
This time, the error can be attributed entirely to the pilot. Again Szafnauer commented on the incident: “I think Esteban removed the limiter half a meter early from the pits. It’s a driver’s error. The drivers have a speed limiter in the pitlane and when he thinks he’s outside he takes it off, and then starts again”.
This mistake cost Ocon another 5 second penalty, totaling 20 up to this point in the race. These penalties have thus plunged Ocon to the bottom of the standings, effectively removing him from any fight for points.
Alpine, realizing that it could no longer have ambitions with Esteban, decided to retire him with 14 laps to go to save the mileage of the Renault power unit for the rest of the season.
Ocon has often been a very careful driver, but Szafnauer thinks that what happened should be interpreted as a wake-up call and a signal that he will have to lead the whole team to be more precise in the future to ensure that this doesn’t happen again .
“It’s very, very rare for this team to make these kinds of operational mistakes, like starting work on the car early,” he said.
“I’ve never seen that happen here before. And we have good systems to prevent that from happening, so I’m confident it won’t happen again.”
“Esteban, who was out of position at the start, will learn from this. Esteban Ocon had what has been described as a day to forget at the season-opening Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain, due to a triple penalty,” he said. concluded Szafnauer.