Otmar Szafnauer is an amiable, mild-mannered man. Saying that, he’s a big guy whom you’d want on your side in a fight and definitely not the sort you want to annoy.
Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon are about to experience the downside of that as the Force India Chief Operating Officer bangs their heads together and lays down a law the team has been threatening to invoke for some time.
When UK TV broadcaster Sky Sports F1 interviewed Szafnauer live on the pit wall moments after his team had self-destructed (properly this time, unlike the first attempt), I don’t know how he stayed calm and avoided expletives on air as world championship points went the way of flying carbon fibre.
(As an aside: fair play to the F1 safety delegates for installing the high safety fence that arrested the flight of that nose wing. Had it reached the packed grandstand, Ocon and Pérez would be addressing an issue far beyond internecine petulance.)
Force India continues to do a superb job extracting the best bang for buck in the F1 paddock. Fourth place in the standings is a tribute to the Mercedes power unit and a package put together under the stewardship of Andrew Green, the technical director whose quiet brilliance came to light with his work on the suspension of the first Jordan F1 car back in 1991. A number of personnel involved with running that neat and efficient little car remain in the same factory and form a key element of a similar ethos that drives Force India today.
When talking through gritted teeth to Sky Sports F1, Szafnauer was speaking for all of his dedicated staff when he said the nonsense had to stop. He allowed that the first incident was one of those things that can happen on the opening lap, but the second was unforgiveable.
When interviewed immediately after the race, Pérez had no hesitation in accepting much of the blame as three cars side-by-side led to Ocon’s terrifying squeeze against the pit wall. But he would have none of the suggestion that he had deliberately forced out his team-mate and triggered the second unnecessary collision.
There is a lot of explosive chemistry going on here. Spa marked Ocon’s first anniversary in F1 and he was determined to continue impressive performances that must have made Pérez uncomfortable this season. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what Checo was thinking when it became clear the other Force India was going to have a run at him as they headed towards Eau Rouge.
Equally, given their recent history, it was obvious Ocon was going to grab whatever chance he could after losing track position thanks to Pérez – surprisingly – gaining the undercut despite having to take a five-second penalty. Pérez had stopped two laps before Ocon, but two laps round Spa is a long way on fresh tyres – and Sergio was in front for the first time.
Who was at fault? The stewards, having seen the incident from angles we are not privy to, decided against neither driver. Mika Salo was the driver representative and the judgement of a hard but fair racer has to be accepted.
But even allowing for the gap on Pérez’s right, it’s valid to question Esteban’s wisdom in putting himself at risk when Checo, rightly or wrongly, was always going to stick to the racing line and shut the door.
There was a lot of emotional reaction post race, since tempered by both drivers, particularly Ocon. They appear not to have missed Szafnauer’s state of exasperation.
Ocon and Pérez say they will be working for the team from here on in. Let’s see if that can get beyond the braking area for any chicane you care to mention at Monza next Sunday.