The thinnest of margins: Esteban Ocon's three five-second penalties in Bahrain explained

It was definitely something that neither Ocon nor his team were expecting in the very first race of the season.

Esteban Ocon in a file photo. (Image: Twitter/@AlpineF1Team)
By Nilavro Ghosh | Mar 9, 2023 | 3 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

It was a day to forget for Alpine’s Esteban Ocon at the Bahrain GP. The Frenchman, heading into the first race of 2023, suffered three time penalties, which were all due to the finest of margins. Ocon retired from the race towards the end, scoring zero points for the team. It was definitely something that neither he nor his team were expecting in the very first race of the season. His teammate, however, did a fantastic job. Pierre Gasly, Alpine’s newest acquisition, started the race in P20 and finished P9, capping off what was a brilliant recovery drive. Had Ocon been in the points, it would have been a good day for Alpine.

The three penalties, what were they about?

The Frenchman was obviously livid over the penalties imposed on him by the FIA during the course of the race. He was heard more than once on the team radio complaining about the issues as he felt the penalties were unfair. And he could very well have a point. His first penalty was a bit straight forward as it was regarding grid positioning. In every Formula One track, there are grid boxes drawn before the start-finish line. Each car has to be positioned neatly inside the grid box before the start of a race, with the front wheels behind the marked line.

In Ocon’s case, the FIA picked up that at the start of the Bahrain GP, Ocon’s front right was slightly positioned outside the grid box markings, and that is what led to the first of three five-second penalties. This decision was understandable as the error was clearly visible. However, the next two decisions were controversial.

Read More – Alonso, Verstappen jubilant; Hamilton brutally honest; Leclerc, Ocon disappointed: How drivers reacted to the 2023 Bahrain GP

First, Ocon had to come into the pits after he sustained a bit of damage during the course of the race. The Frenchman needed a front wing change but first, he had to serve the dive-second time penalty. The FIA are very clear on these rules. No mechanics are allowed to work on the car until and unless the five seconds are served. What happened in Ocon’s case was that although most mechanics were just hovering around the car with their equipment, waiting for time, there was one who made contact with his equipment, only 0.4 seconds before the five seconds were over.

This resulted in a second five-second penalty for the Frenchman. This meant that he now had to serve 10 seconds whenever he came into the pits next. However, Ocon was busted again and this time, it was for pit lane speeding. The margin was so paper thin that one feels bad for the former Hungarian GP winner. Ocon was over the designated pit lane speed by just 0.1 kph. This resulted in yet another time penalty, by which point, Alpine decided it was best to save the car for the next race.

Everything went wrong: Ocon

“Quite impressive how it was not our day today,” said a frustrated Ocon. “We are usually quite good on these operational things. Pit stopping, stopping at the right places, and these are things that we put a lot of effort on, so everything went wrong today for sure. It has never gone like that in the past ever, so I’m a bit surprised to see that this happened. But we will analyse and come back stronger from it.”