Personal rivalries set to dominate proceedings in Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Force India boss Bob Fernley said that the situation between Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon could become a 'handful' for the team - but they aren't the only two at odds with one another

David Tremayne
Thursday 22 June 2017 17:04 BST
Tensions boiled over in Canada between Sergio Perez and teammate Esteban Ocon
Tensions boiled over in Canada between Sergio Perez and teammate Esteban Ocon (Getty)

As Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg demonstrated on more than one occasion during their period as team-mates at Mercedes, a little bit of intra-team aggravation can be great for the sport’s box office, if not for the team concerned.

Formula 1’s publicity machines, arguably one of the key reasons why the sport is so often accused of homogenised banality instead of generating the excitement of a genuine mano a mano battle, are sadly all too adept at papering over the cracks that in-car point-of-action emotion creates from time to time.

See the Hamilton-Rosberg clash in Belgium in 2014, after they’d argued at the previous race in Hungary, their costly accident in Spain last year, and the last lap collision in Austria that followed. The fans love seeing that sort of naked aggression, but it brings the PR people out in hives.

In Canada earlier this month, Sergio Perez was asked repeatedly to let Force India teammate Esteban Ocon have a go at Daniel Ricciardo as they battled the Red Bull driver for the final podium slot. Perez was stalemated, Ocon had tyres that were 13 laps fresher.

Though he was promised the positions would be reversed again were Ocon to be unsuccessful, Perez stayed put, and gave his teammate a seriously hard time when the promising French newcomer drew alongside and attempted a passing move. In the end Sebastian Vettel jumped both of them, leaving the team fifth and sixth when third might have been possible. Ocon, unamused at the time, was moved to exclaim over the radio: “He can’t do that, that’s not fair racing at all!”

Fast forward to Baku today.

A general view of the circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan
A general view of the circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan (Getty)

Force India team boss Bob Fernley agreed that the situation could become a “handful” later in the season. Perez, the reformed wild child who has done a brilliant job for the team since he was unfairly dumped by McLaren at the end of 2013, seriously dented highly rated Nico Hulkenberg’s reputation when they were partnered at Force India, but is now clearly rattled by Ocon - a charming young kid who used to beat Max Verstappen in Formula 3. Yes, he’s that good.

"He hasn't disappointed,” Fernley said of Ocon. “If anything he has overperformed, so in the second half of the season it is going to be quite a handful."

Perez says that the decision has been made to scrap team orders, but some would say that the Mexican, who is backed by mega-wealthy fellow countryman Carlos Slim, already decided that for them in Canada.

Esteban Ocon "hasn't disappointed," Bob Fernley said
Esteban Ocon "hasn't disappointed," Bob Fernley said (Getty)

"We had a couple of discussions, one after the race, one during the week," said Perez. "The policy of the team is that if we are in the same situation they will do exactly the same thing - so they will let us race again; no team orders. They felt there was no need to do team orders.”

Ocon smiled politely, adding that he had spoken with his team-mate by phone in the week while conceding that his partner was still on his Christmas card list. You could read the PR script.

Meanwhile, over at Toro Rosso Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz fell out in Canada over helping each other to go faster in qualifying by providing a slipstream ‘tow’.

Sainz accused Kvyat of disrespecting a team agreement on the tactic, but the Russian said it was policy to take it in turns, race to race, and that he should have been the beneficiary in Montreal. When one car closely follows another a vacuum is formed which sucks the following car along in the leader’s aerodynamic wake, enabling the second car to go faster and, often, to overtake.

"What I see from the qualifying data is zero gain for me in the tow,” Kvyat said. "In Baku he would have been getting a tow, but now I'm not sure I really want to collaborate in qualifying anymore. From my side everything is as clear as the sky, absolutely clear.

"If he has some questions to me, he's more than free to come and talk to me, if he's brave enough. If he's not brave enough, he'll come and talk to you guys and send hidden messages to the media all the time."

Daniil Kvyat made his position "clear as the sky"
Daniil Kvyat made his position "clear as the sky" (Getty)

Sainz maintains that the matter had been aired after Canada. "I prefer not to talk," the Spaniard said. "That will stay inside the team. I expressed my opinion and my thoughts about the situation, which at that point I thought it was clearly unfair towards me, especially in this kind of track.”

Baku’s street circuit boasts a 2.1 km main straight, perfect for giving somebody a really valuable tow.

There’s no friction between McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, though. Yet again they find themselves in the same sinking Honda boat with more than 15 grid place penalties due to the need to replace energy recovery systems and turbochargers.

“We are probably competing to start from the back of the grid,” the Belgian said satirically.

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