Watch Ocon Narrowly Avoid Hitting People During Chaotic Baku F1 Pit Stop
Folks were lucky to avoid serious injury after dodging the Alpine in the final stages of Sunday’s F1 race.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was your typical Formula 1 race. Not a lot of passing and not a lot of drama. Except for one heart-stopping moment when Alpine F1's Esteban Ocon narrowly avoided clobbering a small crowd that, for whatever reason, was blocking the pitlane on the final lap of the race.
As the GP drew to a close, Ocon had been holding out for a safety car or other incident that would allow him to pit without losing track position. Nothing came to pass, so on the last lap, Ocon rushed into the pits for his mandatory tire stop. As he rounded the pit entry, however, he was greeted by a group that had blocked the fast lane of the pits. Ocon hit the brakes and slowed to the pit speed limit and hugged the right wall as people scattered at the last second. Mercifully, nobody was injured in what was an incredibly close call.
The incident was quite confronting, both to individuals on the ground and those watching the broadcast at home. In the former case, Sky's Ted Kravitz reported that several photographers were aware a pitstop was still to come, and were yelling at their colleagues to step back from the area. Meanwhile, TV viewers heard commentators David Croft and Karun Chandhok increasingly panicked at the near-disaster they could see unfolding before them.
"I don't understand why we are starting to prepare the podium and the ceremony when we are still racing, there is one lap to go and there are still people who didn't pit," Ocon said on TV after the incident. "If I miss the braking point, it is a big disaster, so that is a crazy moment."
Several of the group only dodged out of the way fractions of a second before Ocon passed them by. Crucially, too, individuals setting up a rope barrier were able to split either side of the approaching Alpine. Ultimately, it was down to a great deal of luck that nobody was hurt. Had the crowd not managed to part in time, we might have seen a serious injury result from the incident.
It is standard procedure for the FIA to allow access to the pitlane in the final stages of a race. This is to allow photographers to make their way to favorable positions to capture the podium celebrations, while barriers are put out for the parc ferme area. Normally, this isn't allowed until all expected pitstops have been completed. With Ocon's mandatory stop still remaining, the group should never have been allowed to enter the active pit lane at that time. Notably, Ted Kravitz pointed out that the spectators and media staff in the separate team guests area did not enter the pitlane until after Ocon's pit stop, as per the proper procedure.
After the incident, race stewards summoned the FIA representatives responsible for controlling the parc ferme area. The stewards' report notes that Ocon's last-minute pit stop from well behind the leaders was a rare occurrence, but that the situation was nonetheless dangerous. The FIA was instructed by the independent stewards to take immediate steps to avoid a repeat.
It's actually the second near-miss in the F1 pitlane in just over a year. At the 2022 Australian Grand Prix, a late pit stop saw Alex Albon flitting by a gaggle of VIP guests that were wandering near the pitlane exit. Both incidents were close calls with no injuries, but indicative that procedures need to be tightened up in this area.
All in all, the incident teaches us two things. Firstly, if you're controlling access to the pitlane, try to keep abreast of what's going on in the race. And, if you're wandering down there yourself, keep your head on a swivel.
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