Perez, Ocon at odds over Force India’s lost podium in Canada (VIDEO)

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Ordinarily when Sahara Force India finishes fifth and sixth in a Grand Prix, it’s a massive achievement that is the best possible result for what has clearly become Formula 1’s top midfield team.

Yet in Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix, a clear potential podium was there for the team’s taking, and a massive opportunity was blown.

On the opening stint of the race, Force India ran Esteban Ocon longer into the stint, and got the Frenchman as high as second behind Lewis Hamilton, who dominated from the lead. Ocon was clear of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas and the question when he pitted was where he would emerge further into the pack.

Once he stopped though, and switched from Pirelli’s ultrasoft tires onto the supersoft tires, Ocon re-emerged behind teammate Perez, which is where it got interesting.

A five-way scrap would develop for the final podium position behind the two Mercedes drivers. Daniel Ricciardo led the way for Red Bull in a slower car and on Pirelli’s hardest compound tires this race, the softs, with Perez on older supersofts and Ocon on newer supersofts.

The two Ferraris, which had fallen back via front wing (Sebastian Vettel) and braking (Kimi Raikkonen) issues instead used their deficit to their advantage, opting to go onto a two-stop strategy and switch them back from supersofts to ultrasofts.

Ocon appeared quicker than Perez but at no point was able to get by him for position in an effort to hunt down Ricciardo for third. Perez, himself thinking he had the best shot of the two to get Ricciardo, wouldn’t back down either, and the team didn’t make an outright call to say the two needed to switch positions.

A radio call was put out that strongly hinted, but didn’t outright say, that if Force India switched the two and Ocon was unable to pass Ricciardo, they’d give Perez the position back, which never occurred.

The misstep bit them badly towards the end of the race, and nearly resulted in both cars crashing out.

On the run to Turn 1, Vettel, on the new ultrasofts, had closed right on the back of Ocon, but Perez’s braking line into Turn 1 balked Ocon’s momentum as Vettel darted to the inside. Ocon ran onto the grass and tarmac, saving himself from an incident but losing fifth place to Vettel in the process.

As Vettel got Perez for fourth shortly thereafter, not only had a podium gone begging for Force India, but so too had its fourth and fifth place result.

Both drivers spoke to NBCSN’s Will Buxton after the race. Ocon handled the situation in a diplomatic manner beyond his 20 years, but was clearly miffed at his lost potential podium.

“Yeah, I think so … but that’s racing,” Ocon told Buxton, when asked whether he thought Perez had compromised his race. “But that’s not going to take away my smile. Today what we are achieving as a fantastic team, to be challenging Red Bull, Ferrari and hold up Mercedes, that’s quite impressive!

“So yes, If I had a chance to go to try overtake Daniel I think I could have done it with the pace I had, but it hasn’t been the case, but I but there will be a discussion and we’ll analyze everything before the next race.”

Ocon said his target remains a podium finish this year. He seemed angrier about Perez’s move that nearly collected them into Turn 1.

“I was frustrated more with the move he did which wasn’t fair,” he said. “He did a very late move at high speed which could have taken us both out. It would have been horrible for me and the team and him as well. I’m more frustrated with that, than the actual result.”

As could be expected, Perez saw the situation differently and believed he did no wrong in the race.

“I am proud. It was a very tough race for me. Every single lap I was on DRS to Ricciardo. I had to save brakes. But I was always attacking him, waiting for a mistake,” he told Buxton.

“The main thing to that is, if I give the position to Esteban, we were going to lap some cars ahead. I thought Daniel might hit some traffic. All I needed was two or three tenths to get the opportunity. I saw Daniel was struggling. But my tires were quite old, too. It’s not like I was a second or second and a half behind. I was close. More than 40 or 50 laps I was close to him.”

Of the Turn 1 moment, Perez responded, “I think I just defended the position as I would do. I thought I’d better move and protect the inside line. All I did was try to protect the position.”

Perhaps the most damning question in a good line of them was when Buxton asked Perez whether he was only racing for himself, or for the Force India team.

“Of course I’m racing for my team. And the best I can do is get plenty of points for the team,” Perez replied. “I think once we look back, we will not regret this race. Esteban had 40 or 50 laps chance to overtake me. He wasn’t close at all. I couldn’t have got Ricciardo. He was very strong.”

As it was, Ricciardo got third and Vettel fourth before Perez and Ocon came home fifth and sixth, on a day when more was possible.

Penske won’t discuss if Castroneves returns to Indy in 2020

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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INDIANAPOLIS – NBC Sports.com asked Indianapolis 500 winning team owner Roger Penske if three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves would return to the team in 2020?

Penske immediately brushed off the question.

“We’re not going to talk about that right now,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “I’m just not going to talk about it. We’re going to have a meeting about it before we decide, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

“Simon won the race and that is what I’m focused on right now.”

Simon Pagenaud, gave Penske a record-extending 18thIndy 500 win on Sunday. Penske confirmed that Pagenaud will be back with the team in 2020 after he scored his first win in Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500.

Castroneves was an NTT IndyCar Series regular at Team Penske from 2000 until the 2017 season. After that, Castroneves was shifted over to the team’s Acura IMSA Sports Car program, but the three-time Indy 500 winner was given a ride at both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the past two years.

The popular driver from Brazil is trying to join AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time Indy 500 winners.

But the whispers in Gasoline Alley indicate his future with Team Penske at Indy remain uncertain.

“I’ve heard the rumors, too,” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com on pit lane after his disappointing finish in the Indy 500. “I will definitely give it a good, hard think about coming back in 2020. I want to be the rest of the season, here.”

But, will Castroneves run the Indy 500 again?

“Who knows?” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com. “Let’s see what happens.”

Castroneves’s bid for a fourth Indianapolis 500 was derailed in a pit road incident after his first pit stop when he ran into James Davison’s Chevrolet on the team’s first pit stop on Lap 30.

The front wing of Castroneves’s Chevrolet was damaged and INDYCAR officials gave him a “Drive Through” penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” Castroneves would ultimate drop three laps down but finished one lap down in 18thplace.

Castroneves explained what happened to him earlier in the race and how it affected the rest of his Indy 500.

“The accident that happened in the pits hurt us for sure,” Castroneves explained. “We had a problem with the fuel mapping, and I couldn’t go over 200 miles an hour for four or five laps. We lost 35 seconds. There was a bug in the system.

“Then, we went back out and that was it. I wasn’t able to recoup after that. I was excited. The car was very, very good entering the race.”

Castroneves spoke with second-place finisher Alexander Rossi, who was furious with the driver from Brazil earlier in the race for not moving out of the way, even though he was three laps down at the time.

The two drivers hugged, and Castroneves walked back up pit lane.

“I did what the team told me to do, and they told me to go as fast as I could,” Castroneves explained after talking to Rossi. “It’s racing and everybody is upset they didn’t win.”

Castroneves hopes his walk up pit lane is not the final time as an Indy 500 competitor.

But it could be.

“I hope I can come back next year,” Castroneves said. “I’m really upset as a competitor, but extremely happy for Team Penske and for Simon Pagenaud for winning the race.

“The good news is I go back to the Acura sports car, but I will be dreaming about coming back here again.”