The climax of the Azerbaijan GP: Ocon’s pit lane incident analysed

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The 51st and final lap of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix could be the most climactic lap of them all. While Leclerc’s first podium of the season and the victory that was bound to be Checo’s impressed, nothing could top the scary moment when Ocon dived into the pit lane… full of people.

Photo Credit: BWT Alpine F1 Team

Alpine driver Esteban Ocon completed the race on hard tyres. Just like what Haas did with Nico Hülkenberg, their strategy was to hope for a red flag or safety car to get a free swap to a different set of tyres.

However, unlike the qualifying that initiated the weekend with two red flags, the race was unexpectedly smooth and there had been no incidents to cause the red flag which was anticipated by Alpine. That being the case, the Frenchman had to pit on the last lap in order to change his compounds.

We couldn’t help but gasp when Ocon entered the pit-lane and got greeted by almost 30 people who were gathered in the pit-lane, starting the preparations for the podium ceremony. It was a Formula 1 car, still in racing mode, rushing to pit, and people standing in the way. People who should have been aware that Ocon had to pit.

The French driver described the what happened as ‘crazy’ and added “Arriving at 300 kph, braking very late and I see the barriers and the people all around. This is crazy, it could have been a big, big one today. It’s definitely something that needs to be discussed as it is something we don’t want to see.”

There are two things that need to be highlighted. First one is that Esteban Ocon had to pit at least once, just like any other driver on the grid.

Formula 1 pit rules are loud and clear: “If a car doesn’t come into the pit lane to change tyre compounds throughout the entire race, it will be disqualified.” So when he was heading towards the pit-lane during lap 51, he was doing what he had to do and what he had every right to do.

The second thing is that almost all the people on the pit-lane were FIA staff. After some time of the FIA investigating themselves, the public statement about the incident concluded that “representatives of the FIA responsible for the Parc Fermé area at pit entry are required to report to the Stewards at 17:30, in relation to the incident. Reason: 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.”

Photo Credit: BWT Alpine F1 Team

Regardless of who was on the pit lane, the incident was totally unacceptable. However, when it is the personnel of the FIA who have been taking almost ridiculous measures under the name of safety lately, the reactions were even harsher from both the fans and media.

Every person in the paddock may not be aware of the lap they are on and not everyone has to calculate the fact that it was Esteban Ocon’s time to pit. However, there has to be at least one person whose job is to keep the pit lane clear of people walking, talking, and taking photographs before the race is officially ended.

When the race is still on-going, there can still be car retirements, pit stops or an extraordinary situation that leads a car to the pit lane.

FIA staff, the very same people who are a part of the governing body that banned bikes on track or climbing on pit walls, being on the pit lane so casually during the last lap didn’t really appear like something that happened just on this race. The fact that we saw a very similar scenario in the 2022 Australian GP with Alex Albon proves to show that this last lap carelessness is an occurring theme.

At the end of the day FIA required “to take immediate steps to reconsider these procedures and protocols with the relevant stakeholders to ensure that this situation does not occur again”.

With the Miami GP this weekend, we wish for a event where we get excited by the racing and rivalry, and not by a Formula 1 driver almost striking 30 people as if they are bowling pins.