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Formula 1 Austrian GP

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

Late sprint qualifying out-lap bunching left Ocon, Perez and Gasly tripping over each other

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524, leads Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB20

Austrian GP

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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

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 repeatedly told to "keep your pace up" by his engineer, who also twice informed him Alpine was "happy with tyre temps".

Through the final corners, Ocon received the following radio messages:

Alpine, with Ocon on Turn 7 approach: "Cars behind are going to be pushing for position, we need to keep our pace up. Hold this position. [Ocon: Copy]. Big gap in front, we're good to go, 33s to the flag."

Alpine, with Ocon on Turn 8 exit: "Keep your pace up, please. Cars only 2s [behind]. Now they're on out-laps, but we need to keep our pace up now. 25s to flag."

Alpine, with Ocon on Turn 9 approach: "Go now, please, go now."

Alpine, with Ocon on Turn 10 approach: "Come on, let's push now please - 15s."

Pierre Gasly, Alpine A524

Pierre Gasly, Alpine A524

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Ocon went on to set a 1m06.101s that featured him sliding deep and wide at Turn 3, of which he later said over his team radio that "the grip was super low" on his softs and it all meant Perez ended up 0.093s quicker, despite running so close behind.

Having been told the final SQ3 order on his in-lap, Ocon said "I was pushing a lot in the out-lap already", which kicked off the following exchange.

Alpine: "Yeah, I know, you were five seconds quicker [Ocon: Five seconds]. I know, I know."

Ocon: "Five seconds [faster] than I should've done. So, sorry about that, but I couldn't do much more."

With Alpine appearing to accept Ocon's explanation, Perez told TV crews afterwards: "I don't know what Esteban was doing there.

"He apparently had to drive really slowly and I did my final lap within 0.5s of him.

"Basically, there was no chance. It's a shame because we're having a more promising pace there today. Unfortunately, we were not able to maximise it."

Neither Alpine driver appeared overly narked by the situation when they made their own post-SQ3 media appearances.

"It was a good quali, overall, to get both cars in SQ3," said Gasly.

"Unfortunately, the SQ3 was bad. Just badly managed. We almost didn't get the lap. I had to push in the out-lap to cross the line, [so] I had no battery on the final lap and in the gearbox of Checo.

"So, we've got to review to do better – because that's the sort of situation where we can definitely get better out of it. But Q1 and Q2 where very good and good pace, just a shame about this last part of quali."

Ocon felt "obviously it was very tight and maybe not the ideal last run – having to push that much on the out-lap was very tight with finishing".

He added: "We were quite at the back of the queue, me and Pierre, and I had to push to keep Pierre, basically making him cross the line.

"So, yeah, not the ideal end of quali, but I think maximum in terms of positions that we could've done."

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