F1 had ‘lucky escape’ as FIA confirm investigation into Esteban Ocon pitlane incident

Thomas Maher
Alpine's Esteban Ocon makes a pitstop at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, April 2023.

Alpine's Esteban Ocon makes a pitstop at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, April 2023.

Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz has branded Esteban Ocon’s last-lap pitlane incident as a ‘lucky escape’ for F1, as the FIA begin their investigation.

The FIA have summoned their own representatives conducting parc ferme operations at the conclusion of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, following a terrifying incident on the final lap.

Esteban Ocon, who had started the race on the hard compound Pirellis, had not made his regulation-mandated pitstop as Sergio Perez started the final lap, meaning the Alpine driver was guaranteed to make a stop at that time – otherwise, he would have been disqualified.

But, as Ocon swung at high-speed into the pitlane, he found his route was blocked as the FIA personnel had already allowed photographers and personnel into the still-active pitlane to prepare for the usual post-race ceremonies. The people had to quickly jump out of the way of Ocon’s car, as the French driver slowed to the pitlane speed limit.

Following the race, the FIA confirmed the investigation with the parc ferme personnel summoned to Race Control, with the reason given as: “Personnel blocking the fast lane in the pit lane on the final lap of the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix while the pit lane remained open.”

Ted Kravitz explains the usual post-race procedure

Sky F1’s pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz, well used to the procedures that apply to personnel in the pits and where they are permitted to be, explained the situation after the chequered flag. He detailed how the FIA allow personnel to get into position in time for the celebrations but a simple monitoring of the race would have made it obvious that a car still had to make their scheduled pitstop.

“It could have been a very, very different scene, indeed,” Kravitz said.

“Just to explain what normally happens, we normally get to the end of the race and we normally get to the point that everybody knows that everyone’s made their pit stops and that there probably aren’t going to be any more pit stops. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be.

“The parc ferme barriers come out and the official photographers, the FIA photographers, and people are released by the FIA and the local marshals – either through an access gate on the other side [of the pitlane] so people can get into position and get ready.

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“There’s also a photographer’s tower. Normally, that they tend to acquiesce to photographers’ requests to have a little bit of time to get in there so they can get an elevation above people’s heads to get the celebration shots on the podium. So that’s what normally happens.

“Now, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be pitstops on the last lap. But what was unusual about today is that absolutely everybody who was paying attention to the race knew that there was guaranteed to be one last pitstop with Esteban Ocon. Nico Hulkenberg had already come in and made his pitstop, so we all knew that there was going to be.

“We were all completely aware, not least because I just reminded the security guards there, there are two pitstops still to be made – Nico Hulkenberg, who did come in, and George Russell who did come in to set fastest lap and then Esteban Ocon.

“So it wasn’t team guests – this was official FIA-sanctioned photographers, and that’s why the FIA person in charge of this parc ferme arrangement has been summoned to see the stewards up in Race Control. So it’s effectively the FBI investigating themselves. It’s nothing to do with Azerbaijan, it was the FIA officials who obviously made a mistake and didn’t realise, the photographers didn’t realise there was still one person to come in.

“So clearly, it’s not fishing for a penalty or a fine or anything like that. But the lesson does need to be learned as to when they can let people in for pure safety’s sake, as we’ve been saying throughout the programme. F1 had a bit of a lucky escape today.”