Esteban Ocon, Force India, Monaco, 2018

Analysis: Ocon explains why he let Hamilton through in Monaco

2018 Monaco Grand Prix

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Esteban Ocon faced questions over his team’s tactics after the Force India driver appeared to let Lewis Hamilton by during the Monaco Grand Prix.

Hamilton appeared on Ocon’s tail after making his first pit stop early in the race. The Mercedes driver was at risk of losing a position to Kimi Raikkonen if he spent too long behind the Force India, but one lap later Ocon let him by approaching the chicane.

Force India is a Mercedes customer team, so the move inevitably prompted accusations of collusion between the two. Force India’s deputy team principal Robert Fernley denied this had happened, saying they would have treated another rival car the same way.

Quizzed about the change of positions in Montreal yesterday, Ocon said trying to keep Hamilton behind would have cost him time.

“Basically my answer is Lewis had pitted before, it’s like on track [he had a] 20 seconds advantage. We were not doing the same race at that time.

“It was useless for us to lose time against him. The important thing for me was to not lose time against Gasly, against Alonso, all those drivers I was fighting with. That’s it.”

At the time Hamilton caught Ocon, Alonso was 5.4 seconds behind the Force India. Gasly was another seven seconds back with two other cars between him and the McLaren.

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2018 Monaco Grand Prix lap times

All the lap times by the drivers (in seconds, very slow laps excluded). Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and toggle drivers using the control below.

As the lap times above show, Ocon pulled away steadily from Alonso in the opening laps, then began managing his pace around lap nine. When Hamilton appeared behind him it made no difference to the Force India’s pace: he did a 1’19.2 on lap 12 when Hamilton pitted and the same time on the next lap with the Mercedes on his tail.

Ocon then lost almost a second on lap 14 letting Hamilton through. After that the Force India driver increased his pace to the level it had been at before he began saving his tyres. He established a comfortable enough lead that when Alonso pitted on lap 18 Ocon was in no danger of being ‘undercut’ and didn’t come in for several more laps.

From Ocon’s point of view it probably made no difference to his race whether or not he let Hamilton by. But it mattered enormously to Hamilton’s chances of finishing on the podium. That being so, it’s not hard to see why his team might prefer not to compromise its engine supplier’s race.

But it’s unlikely they were the only team making this kind of calculation. Note how easily Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley let ‘brand-mate’ Max Verstappen by on lap seven, just a few corners after the Red Bull caught him:

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Keith Collantine
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53 comments on “Analysis: Ocon explains why he let Hamilton through in Monaco”

  1. Jonathan Parkin
    8th June 2018, 11:24

    It would undoubtedly have cost him time, does everybody remember Bernoldi holding up Coulthard for 35 laps in 2001

    1. I was there and it was great, really everybody but the Mclaren fans were cheering each lap Bernoldi was still in front off D.C! Great memories! 😎

    2. There is also real risk in battling over positions. Hamilton might have taken him out with an ill judged move.

      It also requires real concentration, he might have wanted to simply concentrate on Monaco’s imposing barriers and managing his tires.

      If he says Hamilton wasn’t in his race that is enough for me.

      I’m also not offended if he did it for political reasons. I wouldn’t want to stick my thumb in Toto’s eye if I was him. It wasn’t a spot he was going to keep.

      As long as there is no deal to give away real positions.

  2. It would have cost Lewis time and track position. Its Monaco, you don’t get past.

  3. But it’s Monaco, where it is soooo difficult to overtake. So why not try to also keep HAM behind you? It’s another place.

    I don’t buy it.

    1. It’s not another place though – Ocon would lose it when he pitted anyway. And if he held up Hamilton, he may have lost time leaving him vulnerable to an attack from Alonso behind.

      Unless there was a distinct possibility of Ocon (or Perez) finishing ahead of Hamilton, there is no benefit to trying to keep him behind.

      1. OK, So let’s say we believe that Occon let Hamilton through for the right reasons.

        The reporters are asking the wrong question. The Hamilton pass can be plausibly defended. The real question that can’t be defended is “Why did Occon let Bottas through later on?” That waive through can’t be defended.

        Bottas only finished one spot in front of him and I am sure he could have kept him behind easily. If Ricciardo can drive 5 seconds a lap slower and keep a Ferrari behind, then Occon can drive 0.5 seconds a lap slower and keep Bottas behind him.

        Does anyone truly believe that if that had been Vettel behind him, that he would have slowed down and waved him through? Not in a million years.

        Max crashing has diverted the reporters away from the really big story of the weekend. FI are now actively helping the Merc drivers. People will say that the TR drivers also let the RB drivers through, but I can’t remember a single occasion where a TR driver has made it that easy for a RB driver to pass them. I can’t even remember a TR making it even half easy for a RB driver to pass them. I think RB might want that in the moment, but overall, I don’t think they want their TR drivers to do that.

        1. Good point.

        2. If you would only look at the video, you would see Hartley almost braking to let Verstappen by and it is definitly not the first time this has happened.

        3. But Lewis and Merc can do no wrong, they always are victims of foul play and FIA bias. They don’t manipulate their customers. only ferrari do that.

  4. Let’s say Ocon managed to keep Hamilton behind until his very own stop, Ocon would probably not have enough pace advantage to catch and overtake him anyway.

    The question isn’t so much whether why he let Hamilton through as his reason is very valid, the question is whether he would’ve done the same had it been a Red Bull or Ferrari.

    1. Ocon was not going to loose much time keeping Hamilton behind him, I doubt he would have lost any – as at the time he did not know how the race would unfold there are some scenarios it would have benefited him (or Perez) to keep Hamilton behind. E.g. If it had turned out that Hamilton needed to make a second stop or Hamilton running into some sort of technical difficulties etc. I can’t believe any racer would allow another a free pass (for position)….

    2. petebaldwin (@)
      8th June 2018, 14:04

      @flatsix Indeed but we already know the answer to that. Lets count the times over the remainder of the season that a Force India car slows down to let a Ferrari or Red Bull overtake for position…….

      1. @petebaldwin Well I do think Mercedes somehow counted on it to happen, otherwise that was a terrible pitcall as Hamilton was stuck behind Ocon after 2 or 3 laps I believe,…

    3. Probably not, but then Ocon isn’t going for a Ferrari drive. I’m sure a Sauber wouldnt have held up a Ferrari and I’m sure Toro Rosso would not hold up Red Bull. It’s just F1.

    4. @flatsix This comment section! They bought SFI/Ocon explanation. I guess one believes what one does want to believe, and here I’m thinking Ocon was just digging a bigger hole by trying to justify his actions.

  5. How does one lose time while being ahead in clear air? Ocon let Hamilton through and that’s fine but his explanations make no sense to me.

    1. @invictus – I think he meant losing time by defending against Hamilton, but I agree with your wider sentiment that all Ocon had to do was drive his own race, and let Hamilton do what he wished.

      1. petebaldwin (@)
        8th June 2018, 14:06

        You don’t have to defend though at Monaco to stay in front…. Drive like normal and if Hamilton dives down the inside, let him go. Instead, he allowed down to ensure Lewis lost no time whilst costing himself time!

    2. driving around trying to keep a faster car behind is slower than driving alone.

      you take compromised lines through corners to block your opponent etc which makes your pace slower. pretty basic knowledge.

      try it out in an F1 game, or a go-kart track sometime.

      1. Reminder: this is Monaco we are talking about.

      2. What line? There’s basically one line in Monaco.. that’s why qualifying is so important

    3. Defending your position costs time. He would have to race defending lines, check his mirrors often, just to keep Hamilton behind, which would allow Alonso and Gasly to catch up, while he wouldn’t be able to hold his position against Hamilton anyway, because he still had to make his pit stop.

      1. I have no issue whatsoever whether Ocon made it easier or not for LH, but I do question whether indeed you do lose much time defending in Monaco. It’s not like there are a lot of crazy lines one has available to use to defend if one wants to defend. It’s so single file for so much of a lap that I would think of all tracks this is one where just racing one’s race and holding the one racing line does a lot of defending on it’s own. After all, if even a lack of hp or a hurty MGU unit matters less, doesn’t that say defending is easier at Monaco.

        1. @robbie, Did you see the Williams letting Verstappen drive past? What reason would he have to let him by? Same reason as Ocon cites here perhaps?

          1. @patrickl Yeah I’m fine with that too. If they both legitimately thought they would lose time defending, that’s great. If not I’m fine with that too, particularly at Monaco. It’s easier to defend there, but it’s also easier to hold someone up for laps and laps, and in these two scenarios I’m fine with whatever the truth is for either. Brundle’s immediate reaction with Ocon was that that was a wave by. I chuckled at someone else’s comment on here who said we’ve seen people take way longer to let top cars by as backmarkers while they’re being blue flagged, than it took Ocon to let LH by with no blue flag and not as a backmarker.

  6. Come on. Everyone knows this was pre-arranged and thus given in the strategy.

    The team orders rules were relaxed after being banned for being unpopular, but these intra-team race deals should really be looked at in the interest of sport.

    1. @balue – while I agree with your point, and it didn’t look nice to see Hamilton effortlessly swoop past Ocon, it becomes harder and harder to prove intent in these cases.

      It could very well be a Mercedes/FI agreement – “don’t hinder our cars”.
      It could very well be a Toto/Ocon agreement – “don’t hinder our cars, and I’ll remember it in the future”.
      It could very well be a solo decision by Ocon – “I’m a Merc programme driver, let me show them I’m with the Mercedes programme”.

      The first two are definitely wrong, the third is not wrong in my opinion (i.e. its a driver’s prerogative to drive as he wishes, to the satisfaction of the rules and the team).

      In the absence of hard evidence, how would one prove which of these scenarios were behind the decision?

      1. Ocon was asked via team radio to not lose time with Hamilton. I checked in the race replay on F1TV.

        1. @forzarogo – thanks for clearing that up. :-)

      2. @phylyp I think if it’s the first two then the FIA should definitely look into it. Team orders is fine but teams helping other teams out just doesn’t feel right or sporting. It’s just quite hard to prove if there is an agreement in place and like the above comment, they can just say something over the radio which could easily cover it up.

        Cynical me says there’s a good chance they have an agreement in place. Probably why they pitted Hamilton to come out behind Ocon?

        1. @deej92 – as ForzaRogo pointed out, it was a FI team order to Ocon… and that manner of order is commonplace (e.g. when drivers are on different strategies), but there’s no evidence that the instruction from FI was in any way motivated by Mercedes.

          Again, it might very well be the case, but as you rightly say, proving such a thing might be immensely hard (e.g. until “Alonso is faster than you” and the more obscure “Multi-21”, we didn’t even know what internal-team orders sounded like).

          Part of the reason this has got attention is that it was a rare pass at Monaco, but another reason is also the multitude of ties between Ocon/FI/Mercedes that raises eyebrows.

          I think this also makes an excellent argument against doing away with blue flags, since this is exactly the kind of behaviour that can worsen if leaders have to genuinely overtake backmarkers.

          1. Part of the reason this has got attention is that it was a rare pass at Monaco, but another reason is also the multitude of ties between Ocon/FI/Mercedes that raises eyebrows.

            @phylyp That’s it. Ocon wouldn’t have had to defend much around Monaco so his lap times wouldn’t have been compromised staying ahead so it seems a strange one. Mercedes must have been quite comfortable knowing Hamilton would come out behind Ocon. Would it have been different with Perez? Suppose it’s just theoretical anyway.

            Many teams do it like @mysticus says but it just leaves quite a bad taste in the mouth when this is meant to be a competitive sport from top to bottom, no favours given. Not all this ‘after you, sir’ business!

        2. @deej92

          “Team orders is fine but teams helping other teams out just doesn’t feel right or sporting.”

          Tell that to Ferrari >> HAAS
          or Toro Rosso >> Ferrari…
          But dont tell anything to McLaren :)

          1. Oopps, Toro Rosso >> Red Bull meant :)

          2. @mysticus Yes, it’s Ferrari >> Sauber (or whichever ways the arrows are supposed to point)

  7. Vettel fan 17 (@)
    8th June 2018, 12:15

    But why didn’t he just drive like he was? No need to go defensive, but no need to slam on the brakes and move aside. He could have just drove as he was. If Hamilton made a move, then of course he didn’t have to move over or anything like that. But it would have been better if he just ignored Hamilton, he wouldn’t have lost that second.

  8. What’s the big deal even if he did let him past? Toro Rosso has been helping Red bull for years. Ferrari customers know where their loyalties lie as well.

    1. @todfod – ha ha, it is probably being over-analyzed as it was a pass in Monaco, which is as mythical a best as a unicorn.

    2. Even when not helping a friendly team it’s often better to just let someone in a faster car (who you are not racing) pass you without losing time than to hold him up, because it will cost you time and may be lose you a position to someone who you are racing with.

  9. Neil (@neilosjames)
    8th June 2018, 12:27

    Still utterly perplexed as to why this is even an issue, given that something similar has happened at pretty much every race for the last 20 years. Mexico last year, for example, out of everyone Vettel and Hamilton overtook on their way back through the field, I think only Alonso put up a proper fight against both of them. Most of the others just moved aside…

  10. Bcuz he wants a race seat at the mercs. That hard to do the math?

  11. The thing is you dont really have to defend in Monaco. You can just drive normal lines and let Lewis decide if he wants to risk it. If so you can always back out at that moment.

  12. Tough one – if Ocon was keeping his nose clean for potential future employment you cant blame the young lad.
    If Mercs have an agreement in place that customer teams cant battle them that’s a completely different story.

    I do agree when drivers or teams don’t put up a fight if they have different race strategies and a quicker car is coming through, but that premise doesn’t apply to Monaco, its all track position.

  13. Hartley’s poor sportsmanship does not excuse Ocon’s

  14. @anunaki He might try and you end up crashing. Or just the thought of someone breathing down your rear wing could be distractive enough to lose your own focus.

    The thing is, there were at least 3 cases where someone was let past. Verstappen was simply let by by a Williams and a Torro Rosso and Hamilton by a Force India. It’s not like it’s something exceptional and these 3 drivers will all have had their reason not to bother taking the risk or effort of keeping them behind.

    1. I’m not sure about the Williams (Lance Stroll) in his case it was maybe just lack of competence

  15. You can make all of the excuses you like, that is if you are a Mercedes fan or a Hamilton fan but, if you are being honest it was pure collusion . Ocon and Force India wanted to curry favor with Mercedes and so Ocon waived Hamilton through in order to help Hamilton and Mercedes in their fight with Ferrari and as of late with Red Bull.
    It is my understanding that such inter-team efforts against a 3rd party competitor are not permitted .
    Will F1 never cease to let me down ?
    Another example of why F1 , which was once my favorite sport is no longer even my favorite auto sport .

  16. In the Italian interview he basically admitted that he had to let Ham pass because He is on a Mercedes. he admits that there is an unwritten rule that he has to let Ham by.

  17. Have to admit that since I don’t have sky and watch races on tv8, they didn’t show that a toro rosso let verstappen by, it’s very clear in the video, but I hadn’t seen it till now, that’s the same as what ocon did, so I’d say, as long as that goes for every team A\team B, that’s ok, an exceptional case I noticed is that in spain magunssen seems to have held up vettel and if it weren’t for an exceptionally slow pit stop for bottas, would’ve cost him the place, doesn’t look like he let him by, yet he’s a ferrari B team.

  18. What is to analyze when Toto Wolff already said he gave the order to let Lewis by??

    As for Red Bull/Toro Rosso, it’s not right to compare them. RB/TR have the same owner, all 4 drivers are contracted to RB, and have been joined at the hip for over 10 years. They pay to run 4 cars and can run them how they want.
    Force India on the other had BUY a product. The give MB millions of dollars for the product but yet MB are allowed to dictate the race of a RIVAL team because if Force India say no what..Mercedes will withhold the product Force India have paid good money for? This is the prime example of Merc having far too much power as a manufacturer. If they want to control 4-6 cars in the race (including Williams) then they should be paying to enter that many cars…you know, like at RB/TR!

  19. RB has a 2nd team with their name on it yet I hadn’t seen such a disgraceful, dishonest, unsporting collusion in f1 since the crashgate. Definitely never seen such a blatant cheat before, and STR has always been racing the whole grid but RB!
    All this talk about Sauber becoming a Ferrari B team and Haas being a technical partner but they havent had the nerve to pull one like this.
    There’s been a number of rumours regarding Merc costumers, and obviously STR’s not fighting RB’s much, no secret, apart from the “Gaslys” that try to stir the big team a bit, Ferrari b teams, to all these situations I say unfortunate part of the game, you can’t do much about it it is what it is, all top 3 teams do it and the fia can’t accurately police these shady relations, these helping hands don’t change the outcome of the championship.
    Ocon/Mercedes however, what looked like a strategic blunder by mercedes was actually a rehearsed strategy with an opponent, no more words to describe how wrong this was and how little F1 fans care and how little authority Liberty wants to employ.

  20. Ocon is 100% right in why he let Hamilton by. And this is absolutely NOT the point.
    The point is why did Mercedes pit Hamilton at that time knowing full well he will come out behind Ocon on a track like Monaco!

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