How F1 and Ocon were inches from disaster in Baku

There was almost a nightmare end to the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix when Alpine's Esteban Ocon pitted on the final lap

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A cagey 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix left fans with their hearts in their mouths at the end of the race as Esteban Ocon came inches away from running over dozens of photographers standing in the pit entrance.

Everyone managed to back out of the way of the onrushing Alpine, slowing down from top speed to 37mph for the pitlane, there was one particularly scary moment with someone walking around the back of the group who was completely unsighted of the danger.

But it was a very lucky escape for Formula 1 and everyone involved, and one that left every spectator wondering how the hell it had been allowed to happen.

Why were photographers in the pitlane?

Every F1 fan can picture the scene – the winning driver crosses the finishing line triumphantly, drinks in his success on the victory lap before pulling into the pitlane and parking up before celebrating with their team.

This all happens in the pitlane and with such a tight turnaround, the FIA opens up the pitlane at the end of the race to set up the parc ferme and winners area and allow photographers to get into position to catch that moment of celebration.

Race winner Sergio Perez embraces Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen in parc ferme after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix | Mark Thompson/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Why was Ocon pitting on the last lap?

If you ignored the pit stop column on the timesheets, it looked like Esteban Ocon was having a fantastic Azerbaijan GP, running in the points for most of proceedings.

After qualifying 12th, he had to start from the pitlane alongside Nico Hulkenberg, after both drivers underwent suspension changes ahead of the race, but both stayed out under the early safety car for Nyck de Vries‘ crash, meaning they were catapulted into the top ten.

Hulkenberg‘s tyres gave up in the closing stages as he was passed by a slew of drivers Ocon was holding on in ninth, hoping desperately for a late safety car or red flag to bag a cheap pitstop.

Under F1 regulations, drivers need to use two different sets of tyres in a dry race or face disqualification, so Alpine reluctantly called Ocon in when the Frenchman had a lap to go.

So what went wrong?

Esteban Ocon in action at the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix | Alpine F1 Team

The catch was Ocon was over two-thirds of a lap behind the leaders, so he was entering the pits at the end of lap 50 just as Sergio Perez was round the last real corner of the corner to complete lap 51.

Hulkenberg and George Russell had pitted the lap before and whoever was controlling the release of those photographers didn’t realise that Ocon was still set to stop on that lap.

All of that culminated in the frightening freeze-frame of Ocon slowing down from race speed facing a wall of photographers, with only a few seconds until impact point.

What happens next?

Thankfully, everyone was able to get out of the way in time, but the officer who’s responsible for parc ferme has been summoned to the stewards post-race.

This won’t lead to a penalty for anyone, but will be a learning point for everyone involved and go down as a lucky escape for F1.

Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport, and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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