Opening laps don’t get more chaotic than this!
The considerable goodwill generated for Esteban Ocon surrounding his uncertain future in Formula One evaporated the moment that he collided with Max Verstappen at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Lingering outrage that Ocon is unlikely to feature on the grid next season has swiftly transformed into an ostensibly unified sentiment of good riddance after the Frenchman made contact with the race leader, in an attempt to unlap himself, spinning the Dutchman in the process.
This about-face highlights the fair weathered creed of most contemporary, social media dwelling fans, where a driver is deemed only as good as their last race, living and dying by the latest mass thread of vitriol.
Ocon had been considered humble and mild-mannered, with an infectious, childlike personality, and earmarked for a Mercedes berth in the not-too-distant future – even as he faced a season on the sidelines as a victim of circumstance.
None of this absolves his clumsiness at Interlagos, when he stood to gain little (or nothing) had he completed a successful ‘overtake’, and his subsequent reluctance to admit fault wasn’t his finest hour.
“The rules say you are allowed to unlap yourself if you’re faster,” he claimed.
“I still saw I had massive pace. I went around the outside of him (Verstappen), that’s the same move I did on Fernando (Alonso), the same move I did on many other drivers.”
Of course, he omitted the crucial aspect that Verstappen was leading the race at the time.
Despite the episode, it returns to the aforementioned outrage and its enveloping culture where somebody always wants their word on the issue of the day, as contradictory as it frequently proves to a previous and often long-held stance.
As such, the tune has changed to wonder how Ocon ever deserved a seat in the first instance, his results and trademark consistency counting for nothing when others have committed far worse deeds to lesser fallout.
A ten-second stop-go penalty to the Frenchman was an appropriate punishment – anything further would have risked setting a dangerous precedent.
For his part, Verstappen wasn’t completely innocent, shoving Ocon several times in parc ferme, demonstrating that his impulsive nature continues to define him.
His anger at being deprived of victory is understandable, yet his inability to view incidents objectively remains. Time will tell whether this changes as he continues to mature – still just 21 – or if his Senna-like temperament is ingrained in his DNA.
Formula One feeds on drama, and in the wake of another championship race which fizzled out before our eyes, it was a welcome shot in the arm.
But fans shouldn’t make the mistake of pigeonholing those creating the entertainment on the basis of one action, not least when there have been countless previous instances that tell a different story.