'Beep' confusion hands Ocon three-place grid penalty

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
© XPB 

Force India's Esteban Ocon has been handed a three-place grid drop by the Japanese Grand Prix stewards, after having been reported for speeding under red flag conditions during final practice.

Ocon finished qualifying in eighth place, so the penalty will drop him out of the top ten and he will line-up in 11th position instead. The drivers getting a one place boost as a result of his demotion are Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc.

The breach took place near the end of FP3 when Nico Hulkenberg crashed into the barriers in the Renault. The session was red flagged while track workers attended to the driver and removed the car.

Shortly afterwards, Ocon was ordered to report to race stewards after his split times showed that he had not slowed sufficiently when the red flags were shown.

In his defence, Ocon told the stewards that after slowing for the red flags at turn 4, he heard beeps over his team radio which is an automated system used by Force India to tell a driver he's going too slowly.

Complying with the instruction to speed up, he then broke the maximum speed limit allowed under red flag conditions.

“In doing so, he briefly exceeded the delta by a maximum of -1.68 over three mini sectors," the stewards said in their official finding. "As a result, he had failed to maintain the speed delta required under the regulations resulting in an infringement.

“He acknowledged the infringement and attributed it to the confusion caused by the beeps and the system currently being used by the team in such situations."

The stewards decided on a three-place grid drop "given the importance of observance of the speed restrictions while red flags are being shown and recognising the limited extent of the breach."

Even before the demotion, Ocon had been disappointed with eighth place on the grid.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.

"I’m not satisfied because we didn’t maximise our potential today," he said. "Our approach to Q3 meant we fuelled up for a few laps because we felt the track would dry up and keep improving.

"In reality the track was already quite dry right from the start of Q3 and that’s when the track was at its best, but we were heavy on fuel. Then, by the time we started our second run, the rain was getting heavier.

"Well done to the others who judged it better than us," he added. "That’s what can happen in those wet sessions.

"I think we had the potential for more and I know we can be strong in the race. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”

His team mate Sergio Perez also made it through to the final round of qualifying and now finds himself starting from ninth place as a result of Ocon's penalty.

"I am not very happy with my qualifying result because I think I should have been in front of quite a few other cars," the Mexican driver complained.

"It was a difficult session from the beginning of Q1. I was completing my lap when the red flag for Ericsson’s crash came out: I was just metres away from the line but I didn’t get a lap and I had to go again.

"In Q3 I went wide and lost a lot of time on my first lap when the track was at its best so there is definitely the feeling I could have done a lot more today.

"We need to make up some ground tomorrow," he said, before going on to add a more positive spin to his race outlook. "We start in the top ten and we have good pace so good points are achievable.”

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