Ocon questions “very close moment” with people in the pit lane on the final lap: “Crazy”

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Esteban Ocon had a very close call as he pitted on the final lap of the 2023 Azerbaijan GP to make his mandatory pit stop, but the Frenchman had to dodge around a sea of people and marshals that were in the pits, not expecting a car to come through, in what was a scary moment for all involved.

Photo Credit: BWT Alpine F1 Team

The Alpine driver started from the pit lane after the team broke the parc fermé rules to make changes to his car following Friday’s qualifying session. He started Sunday’s main race on the hard compound tyres and did 50 laps on that set, opting to pit on the last possible chance in the hope of a late disruption in the form of a Safety Car or even a red flag. The same strategy was adopted by Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas, who pitted a lap earlier.

But while Hulkenberg was in and out with no problems on lap 49, Ocon encountered several FIA marshals and personnel as he rapidly approached the pit lane speed limiter line. He decreased his speed to the mandated 80 km/h, but still had a close call with some people right in the middle of the fast lane as he was approaching, in what was a bizarre scene at the end of the grad prix.

Speaking to the media after the race, Ocon explained how the personnel were already preparing the podium whilst there were cars still to pit, saying he doesn’t “understand” why that was the case and expressing his hopes of a change of procedures following this incident that could’ve been much worse:

“I don’t understand why we’re starting to prep the podium and to prep the ceremony while we’re still racing,” he said. “There’s one lap to go, there’s still people that didn’t pit.

“I’m arriving at 300kph, braking very late and I see the barriers, I see the people around – I mean, this is crazy. It could have been a big, big one today. It’s definitely something that needs to be discussed. It’s something that we don’t want to see.

“It’s clear, we need to wait until all the cars have passed the chequered flag and be sure that there’s no racing in the pit lane anymore until you start prepping the podium. It’s not a mystery, it’s very simple.”

Ocon said he expects the FIA to “take action” on the matter and signalled that he will be personally involved in the case if nothing changes following the close call on Sunday.

“We don’t want to see this thing happening, I’m sure the FIA have seen it and they will take action. If they don’t take action, I will speak to them.”

A few hours after the race, the FIA issued a statement regarding the investigation around the incident, noting that personnel setting up the Parc Ferme just before the end of the race is not an “unusual” practice, but should’ve been reconsidered given there was still one car to pit, as it created a “very dangerous situation”:

“The Stewards heard from the FIA representatives and determined that the relevant representatives took steps to set up the parc ferme area and also permitted media and other personnel to gather in the start of the pit lane and the pit wall during the last lap of the race, while the pit lane was open and before the final pit stop of OCO (Car 31).

“We noted that it was not unusual for the representatives to allow such persons into the pit lane just before the end of the race, in the usual course of preparation for parc ferme and the Podium ceremony. However, in this case, there was one driver that had to pit in the last lap and this created a very dangerous situation for those that were in the pit lane at the time.”

The decision also notes that it was “fortunate” for those involved that there were no serious consequences, and that safety must be priority in all cases. The Stewards required the FIA to review the procedures to avoid a similar situation in the future, and changes will be implement as soon as the next race in Miami in a week’s time, according to the statement.

“We considered that it was fortunate that there were no serious consequences on account of what happened today. We stressed that the requirements of ensuring a safe and orderly event are paramount. This was acknowledged by the FIA team.

“We walked through the relevant procedures and protocol with the FIA representatives in detail and required them to take immediate steps to reconsider these procedures and protocols with the relevant stakeholders (including FOM, the teams and the FIA) to ensure that this situation does not occur again.

“The FIA representatives expressed their regret at what happened and assured us that they would do so in time for the next event.”