Pierre Gasly finished the Japanese Grand Prix in the top ten, but he was unhappy with late team orders from the Alpine pit wall telling him to cede a position behind team mate Esteban Ocon to the finish.
Gasly had started the race from 12th place after an underwhelming qualifying on Saturday, with Ocon two places further back on the grid.
Ocon pitted under an early safety car to switch to the first two sets of hard compound tyres while Gasly remained on his initial set of mediums until lap 19, giving him two shorter stints on the hard tyre.
It meant Ocon had been able to undercut Gasly and move ahead of him on track, but Gasly now had the fresher - and faster - tyres. He said that this had been a pre-planned strategy within the team.
“[It was agreed that] they would undercut the leading car, and they would let me pass so we don’t lose time.” he told the media in the paddock at Suzuka International Racing Course after the finish.
Ocon had made his second pit stop six laps before Gasly, and was still ahead by the time that the duo peeled into the pits for the final time. Gasly was closing in on Ocon when the decision to swap the cars around was made on lap 47.
But when Gasly proved unable to use the one-spot promotion to catch and challenge Fernando Alonso for P8, Gasly was shocked to receive new team orders to cede the position back to Ocon as he started the penultimate lap.
“It was never said that we would need to invert again, because I was always in front,” Gasly simmered. “For the team it’s the same - ninth and tenth - but it’s definitely not something I expected, and not really something I understand.
The transcript shows Gasly's race engineer Karel Loos relaying an instruction from the pit wall, saying: "Can we swap back around please?”, to which Gasly responds: “Wait, what the ****, mate? You’re kidding me. What are you saying? I was faster. I’m on fresher rubber. I would’ve overtaken him anyway.”
Loos responds by promising to discuss it in the office, but confirming the order to "Swap around please" and adding: “We don’t have to say anything now, we’ll discuss it after.
Even so, Gasly is in no mood to let it go, replying: “Are you serious? Are you being serious? I started in front, I was in front the whole race, you let him undercut me.”
"I’m not joking, instructions from the pit wall. Let’s do it next time around please, turn 16" replied Loos. After a tense silence, Gasly finally acquiesced but not before making his feelings plain: "Thank you. Complete joke.”
Gasly could be seen gesticulating in the cockpit on the cool-down lap, but by then the team had the presence of mind to kill the radio communications. Once he was back in the paddock and questioned by the media, his temper was under control.
"It wasn't discussed before the race," he insisted. “It was clear that with the strategy they had planned, at some point Esteban would undercut me. But my race was faster, I would have overtaken him anyway on the race track because I had fresher tyres.
“This was part of the strategy that was done before the race. Until then it was similar, it was just on the last lap," he said. "But anyway, it’s something we’ll talk over together.
“Overall I think we did a good strategy as a team we did the best job we could with both cars," he acknowledged. "As a team, tenth and ninth or ninth and tenth is the same, but it was definitely not something I expected.
"We have some things to review to see what we can do better for next time. In the end, it’s a double points finish for the team and that’s the most important thing.
"I don't understand the team's decision, but I respected it and let Esteban pass. In the end it's three points for the team and that's what we will have to look at," he said. "I’m sure the next time around Esteban will play it fair."
"It was good teamwork in an attempt to grab more points as a team and, in the end, we probably maximised what we had," Ocon responded in the team's post-race press release. "We have many things to learn and to discuss."
Interim Alpine team principal Bruno Famin subsequently explained that the decisions taken by Alpine had been made with the “best interest of the team first and foremost”.
“Towards the end of the race, we looked to capitalise on our tyre advantage and pace from Pierre by targeting eighth place [Alonso],” he said.
“The opportunity was a close one and we decided to swap positions on track with a view for maximising the team result by giving Pierre the chance to chase eighth place.
“In the end we ran out of laps and pace and we made the decision to swap the drivers back. Making these calls is never easy. However all decisions are taken with the best interest of the team first and foremost.”