Pierre Gasly conceded ninth place to Esteban Ocon on the final lap of the Japanese Grand Prix, having received an order he wasn’t happy about.
Gasly had been running in ninth place with a lap to go at Suzuka, only to cross the line in 10th place after Esteban Ocon got past on the final lap – the circumstances for which weren’t immediately clear as Gasly didn’t appear to have suffered a mechanical issue.
Intriguingly, Gasly had also shown some anger crossing the line, sticking up his middle finger in apparent disgust – even if it wasn’t clear who that anger was aimed at.
Alpine radio messages reveal team order to give position to Esteban Ocon
While Alpine were set to score ninth and 10th anyway, the team made the call to swap the two drivers around in the closing stages of the race – a decision Gasly was apparently furious about.
Ocon had pitted on Lap 1 to ditch his mediums and swap to the hard tyres, running two long hard tyre stints to the chequered flag. With Gasly running a normal length first stint with 18 laps on the mediums, it meant Gasly caught quickly up on Ocon in the closing stages on much fresher tyres.
Ocon had been instructed to allow Gasly through, in order to set off after Fernando Alonso as he exploited his fresher hard tyres for the final stint. Ocon obeyed the instruction, with Gasly being told his teammate would release him.
While the radio messages between Ocon and his race engineer Karel Loos reveal Ocon understood that he would be given the position back if Gasly failed to get ahead of Alonso, the same information was not relayed to Gasly – Gasly merely thanking the team as he passed Ocon.
However, on the penultimate lap, having failed to catch Alonso, Gasly was instructed to let Ocon back through – a decision that he made very clear he wasn’t happy about.
Karel Loos: Okay, mate. So we’ve got Esteban 2.4 behind. Instruction on the pit wall coming. Can we swap back around, please?
Pierre Gasly: Mate, what the f**k? You’re kidding me, are you? Why are you saying that? I was faster. I’m on fresher rubber. If you would have not passed me (sic), I would have overtaken him anyway.
KL: Yeah, we’ll discuss it in the office. Please swap round, please.
PG: Are you serious? You’re being serious? I started in front, I was in front the whole race, you let him undercut me, and then…
KL: Mate, I’m not joking. The instruction comes from the pit wall. Let’s do it next time round, please. Turn 16.
However, Gasly didn’t appear to be eager to relinquish position, with Ocon getting on the radio requesting that his teammate be told again to swap positions.
PG: You confirm you want to swap?
KL: Affirm, mate. Affirm, please.
PG: Yeah, thank you. Complete joke.
Another half a lap passes, with Loos getting back on the radio.
KL: Please Pierre.
PG: I’m doing it.
KL: Copy, thank you. You don’t have to say anything now, we’ll discuss it after. OK, that’s the checkered flag. That’ll be Scenario 12.
KL: OK mate, so stop the car in parc ferme.
PG: No, it’s OK, mate. It’s OK. Let’s stop here. It’s OK. I understand. I understand what you’re doing. It’s like…
KL: OK. Let’s discuss it out on the camera, mate. Just switch off.
Bruno Famin: Decisions are made in the best interests of the team
Speaking after the race, Gasly was tight-lipped about his thoughts on the subject: “I’m just very frustrated to need to swap position in the last lap. I don’t fully understand it. I don’t really see the need, but we’ll talk internally.”
Interim team boss Bruno Famin, who has replaced Otmar Szafnauer in the team leadership role for the second half of the season, explained that the decisions taken by Alpine had been made with the “best interest of the team first and foremost” – even if the finishing positions for the two cars remained the same.
“Towards the end of the race, we looked to capitalise on our tyre advantage and pace from Pierre by targeting eighth place,” 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.”