Formula 1 likes to pride itself on its safety record these days. Innovations in car design, crash barrier development and the way an F1 race is run means that serious accidents are, thankfully, few and far between these days. But the number of close calls we see on a race weekend has been on the rise in recent months, culminating with an incident on Sunday that saw Alpine’s Esteban Ocon slam on the brakes to avoid a wall of FIA delegates blocking the pitlane.
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Ocon had an interesting race at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix this weekend. Having started the race on hard tires, he ran almost to the end without stopping for a new set of wheels. But, in F1, the rules state that drivers must use two different tire compounds over the course of the race. Meaning that everybody knew the French racer still had to stop before the checkered flag fell.
So as lap 51 of 51 started, eyes were on the Alpine driver to see if his mammoth stint on hard tires was finally coming to an end. But, just as Ocon peeled off the track and into the pits, the F1 commentary team were shocked to see that a flock of FIA representatives was on the track preparing for the end of the race. Then, as Ocon barreled into the pitlane he was faced with a wall of people blocking his path. He slammed on the brakes, and the representatives on track jumped out of the way.
The incident was shocking, with many taking to Twitter to brand it an outrage. Sky’s pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz was shaken by the sight and you could hear the anger in his voice following the on-track incident.
“I had a bit of a scary moment at the end of the race when I came into pit and saw people congregating in the Pit Lane even though the race had not ended,” explained Ocon in a release shared by the Alpine team. “Fortunately, nothing happened, but we must make sure these scenarios don’t happen again.”
After the race concluded, the FIA stewards monitoring the Azerbaijan Grand Prix called in representatives from the sporting body for questioning over the incident. Now, Autosport reports that the FIA is “currently investigating the incident in the pitlane on the final lap.”
Representatives of the FIA were ordered to meet with the stewards yesterday at 5:30 pm local time (9:30 am ET). At the time, the FIA released documents saying:
“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 below.
“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.”
Since then, Formula 1’s governing body has not issued an update on the stewards’ findings of the incident. But, with less than a week to go until the next grand prix in Miami, race fans will be hoping that safety can be tightened up once again.
But the incident on Sunday is just the latest in a slew of mishaps for the FIA and its management of Formula 1. Over the past year, drivers have repeatedly complained about inconsistencies in stewarding at events, and during last year’s Japanese Grand Prix organizers even released a recovery vehicle onto the track while cars were still circling.