Pierre Gasly was left puzzled by instructions from his Alpine team late in the Japanese Grand Prix that he described as a “complete joke.”
Alpine ordered Gasly to give up ninth place to teammate Esteban Ocon on the final lap as he hadn’t managed to catch and pass Fernando Alonso ahead for eighth in the final stint. However, with the drivers running two different strategies, G asly was angry when the request was made as his team radio at the time shows:
Engineer: “OK mate, we’ve got Esteban 2.4 (seconds) behind, instruction from the pit wall coming, er, can we swap back around?”
Gasly: “Wait, what the f***, you kidding me?! Why you saying like… I was faster, I’m on fresher rubber if he would not have let me pass I’d have overtaken him anyway.”
Engineer: “Yeah, we’ll discuss it in the office, let’s please swap around.”
Gasly: “Are you serious? You’re being serious? I started in front, I was in front the whole race, you let him undercut me.”
Engineer: “Mate, I’m not joking, those instructions come from the pit wall. Next time around, T16 please.”
Gasly: “You confirm you want to swap?”
Engineer: “Affirm mate, affirm please.”
Gasly: “Yeah, thank you. Complete joke.”
“It wasn’t discussed before the race,” Gasly explained afterwards. “I was told that Esteban decided to undercut me with the strategy, to favor him — it would obviously undercut me, who was the leading car, and they would let me pass so we don’t lose time.
“It w as never said that we’d need to invert the positions again, because I started ahead and I was always in front. As a team, 10th and ninth or ninth and 10th is the same. But it was definitely not something I expected and not something I really understand as well, because I was the leading car. We’ll talk, yeah.
“I think we did a good strategy. As a team, we did the best job we could with both cars. I don’t understand the team’s decision but I respected it. I let Esteban past. But in the end, it’s three points for the team, and that’s what we have to look at.”
Gasly said it was clear that the way the two strategies would play out meant positions would need to change on track, but insists it wasn’t planned that he would be asked to move aside.
“No, no, it was clear that we have a strategy they had planned, at some point Esteban would undercut me. But my race was faster and I would have to pass him back,” he said. “I would have overtaken him anyway on the racetrack because I had fresher tires.
“Until then, it was all similar, it was just on the last lap it was…. Anyway, it’s something we’ll talk together (about), we’ll explain, and I’m sure next time, the other way around, Esteban will play it fair.
“I put the team in front of myself, and that’s what I would do anyway.”
In contrast, Ocon says the approach was consistent with previous Alpine decisions where drivers allow each other to try and improve their overall position without fighting between each other.
“I’ve been with this team for four years now and the rule has always been this one, with Daniel (Ricciardo), with Fernando (Alonso), if one driver swaps positions,” he said. “So in that instance, I gave the position to Pierre, he needs to get the position in front, which was Fernando, in order to be keeping that position. Otherwise you just give the place back to your teammate.
“That’s always what we’ve done. If I’m on the other side, I will obviously do the same. But I always prefer a fight on-track. I’m more of an old-school guy, and I would never ask for the position to be switched. But I understand also the team’s point of view, which was trying to get more places and to get more points, but unfortunately yeah, we didn’t get that. I think we maximized the potential. There wasn’t much more on the table.”