In 2017, the Force India camp had deal with a miniature civil war between their drivers. Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff spoke of the Ocon-Perez feud and admitted that it ‘bothered’ him. He was particularly unnerved when the two would often trade blows on track. He had a cause for concern as Esteban Ocon is a Mercedes junior driver.
The trouble began when the team issued a few instructions in Canada and things escalated into collisions in Azerbaijan, Hungary and Belgium. An alarmed Force India then imposed team orders on the pair and things calmed down.
Being a Mercedes junior, Ocon naturally approached Wolff for advice in dealing with his teammate. He hoped that Wolff’s experience of managing Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes would help. However, Wolff admitted that the Force India clashes had begun to get frustrating.
He said, “What bothers us are these intra-team rivalries that end with two damaged cars. This applies not only to Esteban, but also to ‘Checo’ [Perez]. As a team boss, I’m so annoyed by that.”
Ocon ended 2017 in eighth place in the drivers’ standings, 13 points adrift of seventh placed Perez. The Mexican recorded Force India’s best race result of fourth in the Spanish Grand Prix, while Ocon’s personal bests were fifth in Spain and Mexico. Wolff believes that in order to develop, Ocon must beat Perez in 2018.
Wolff said, “Esteban performed very well against a very strong Sergio Perez. [In 2018] he has to take the next step and improve this performance. He is incredibly consistent, makes few mistakes and has great speed. [This year] he will have to develop further in this respect and outperform Perez.”
Anticipating tough competition from Renault and McLaren, Perez advised Force India against team orders in 2018. He believes that team orders would only hand their rivals an advantage.