Formula 1 Racing

The Austrian GP sprint qualifying mess that left Perez and Gasly stuck behind Ocon

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524

Esteban Ocon‘s Austrian Grand Prix sprint qualifying SQ3 out-lap driving left two of his rivals baffled after it appeared to thwart the chances of the chasing Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly.

While Ocon finished eighth in SQ3 – ahead of Gasly but behind Perez – all three drivers ended the session feeling they could have done better as they came under pressure to start their laps.

And for Perez, who ended up getting stuck behind Ocon for his flying lap, the situation was incredibly annoying as he felt he should have been further up were it not for what happened.

“I don’t know what Esteban was doing there,” he declared afterwards.

So, how did the situation play out?

All four were at the end of the queue at the pit exit late in the final segment of sprint qualifying.

Charles Leclerc pulled out of the line just as they were all finally starting to exit the pits due to an anti-stall problem on his Ferrari unexpectedly cutting the car’s engine.

That allowed Gasly to gain a spot, but he was likewise under pressure to set a timed lap as ahead Perez had continued driving slowly through the pit exit.

The Mexican driver then set off after Ocon, who in turn had allowed a gap to build to Verstappen ahead when the Frenchman was traversing the uphill pit exit behind Turn 1.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

But the trio of Ocon, Perez and Gasly then compressed when Ocon seemed to slow again through the lap’s middle sector – just as Perez and Gasly were responding to urgent instructions to push on to avoid getting stuck with the chequered flag coming out to end SQ3.

This fell a second before Leclerc made it around to start his flier, having restarted his engine.

At this point he had nearly caught Gasly’s Alpine, with Lewis Hamilton close to the Ferrari too as he finished his SQ3 timed lap at the head of the pack.

“What is Esteban doing?” Gasly had asked as he exited the Turn 7/8 chicane at the end of the frantic out-lap.

Ahead, Red Bull had been warning Perez “Still unsafe, Ocon’s got a free track” – after telling him earlier he was five seconds “unsafe” to make it around in time exiting the sharply uphill Turn 3 in the out-lap.

Perez was told: “You’ve got one second, but hold position, Gasly is there” when he asked if he could afford to back off at all from Ocon’s rear – having essentially caught it at the final corner, with just a few car lengths between them.

By this stage, Ocon had been…

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