Force India team boss Otmar Szafnauer has denied suggestions that Esteban Ocon’s clash with Max Verstappen was part of a conspiracy from the Mercedes junior.
Verstappen and Ocon tangled as the Red Bull driver led the Brazilian Grand Prix and looked set to win the race from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
However, with a fresh set of Supersoft tyres, Ocon had a pace advantage over Verstappen with the Frenchman trying to unlap himself around the outside of the first corner.
Unable to complete the move the Force India driver then hung wide to run side by side with the race leader into the second part of the Senna S, at which point Verstappen took the racing line and the pair clashed.
Subsequent suggestions from Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko post race claimed Ocon’s decision to fight Verstappen for track position was the result of being promised a Mercedes drive for 2020, a notion Szafnauer vehemently denied.
“That’s conspiracy theory,” Szafnauer scoffed on Sky Sports.
“I doubt a racing driver’s thinking about my race drive in 2020 in what I do today. Absolutely not.
“Esteban came on the radio and said ‘can I unlap myself because I’m quicker?’. We said ‘yeah, go ahead’. That’s it.”
The Force India team boss also defended the need to pass Verstappen in the first place.
“He did (need to do it) because at that point we had a tyre advantage and we probably would have had a tyre advantage for five, six, seven, eight laps,” he added.
“Whatever Max was doing to gently bring his tyres in, we didn’t need to, so at six laps with, I don’t know, half a second tyre advantage, that’s three seconds.
“We’re racing other people and we can’t get stuck, even if it’s behind the race leader. So yeah, we had to do it. For our race we had to do it.”
Predictably Red Bull boss Christian Horner held the opposing view, and was left frustrated after seeing a race win slip through his team’s fingers.
“The lead car has just lapped a Force India. Clearly you shouldn’t interfere as a lapped car with the leader. What on Earth Ocon was thinking about there just beggars belief,” Horner told Sky Sports.
“He’s a lap down, he doesn’t have the pace. He’s chucked the car up the inside there, it just makes absolutely no sense at all.”
“I think Max has been pretty restrained, to be honest with you. It’s cost him a grand prix victory,” he said.
“Esteban was lucky to get away with a push to be honest with you.
“I think emotions are running high. I told him, just get yourself under control on the cool down lap because he’s lost a victory through no fault of his own today.
“Hugely frustrating for him and for the team. We’ve done everything right; we had Mercedes on the ropes; we passed Ferrari. So hugely frustrating for everybody to lost a victory for a backmarker.”
Ocon is poised to lose his drive at Force India for next season, though has been linked with a seat at Mercedes powered Williams.
The only other unconfirmed drive is at Red Bull’s junior team, Toro Rosso, and is currently occupied by Brendon Hartley.