Dubai: Max Verstappen’s shove on Esteban Ocon after Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix dates back to a rivalry during their time in Formula Three, according to Dubai-based Indy Car driver Ed Jones, who raced alongside them in that 2014 series.
Verstappen was involved in an altercation with Ocon after a collision between the pair cost the Red Bull driver victory in Sao Paulo over the weekend.
The Dutchman went in for a routine overtake to lap Ocon towards the end of the race only for the Force India driver to resist the move sending both into a spin that allowed Hamilton to overtake Verstappen for the win.
Verstappen was ordered to serve two days public service for “pushing or hitting Ocon forcibly several times in the chest” in the paddock after the race, while the Frenchman got a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for causing the initial contact.
“To be honest I’m not surprised with Ocon, I raced with those guys in F3 and I think Ocon is probably just very bitter of Max and he saw this opportunity to steal something from him,” Jones told Gulf News on Monday, while back in Dubai on the off-season from Indy Car.
“Ocon was in F3 in a much superior car and won the championship. Prema Powerteam had won the championship for the last however many years and their car was just on another level. They were fighting and Max was still able to beat him a few times, but I think the roles are reversed a bit now.”
Ocon won the championship with nine wins and 21 podiums out of 33 races that year, and Verstappen finished third with 10 wins and 16 podiums, despite racing in a lesser car with Van Amersfoort Racing. Jones came 13th with two podiums.
“I saw conspiracies that it’s because he [Ocon] is linked with Mercedes,” Jones added of claims made by Red Bull boss Helmut Marko, who seemed to suggest Ocon was purposely doing Hamilton’s side a favour.
“No chance, Mercedes didn’t need to do that, that’s just the craziest thing, it’s just the way Ocon is.
“I was pretty upset for Max because of the great job he had done, you saw how much speed they lose on the straights, Renault’s power compared to Mercedes and Ferrari. I would have been super angry as well.
“I don’t think it was intentional to lose him [Verstappen] the race, but obviously Ocon is out of a drive next year and he was fighting with Max quite a lot in F3 when we were there.
“It’s just a shame because Max finished second in Austin, first in Mexico and should have won again.”
Jones added that he and Verstappen remained friends with the latter even coming out to the US to visit him.
“Max loves America, he’s coming to Miami and will probably be there for the month of January just to train because no one recognises him there, whereas he can’t go to Holland because it’s too invasive for him.
“We talk every now and then and I message him, we both enjoyed our junior categories, where there was no — or at least less — politics, and we had some great battles in the past and some great nights out, he’s a lot of fun.”
On Verstappen’s odds of becoming a future world champion, Jones said: “For sure, he’s extremely talented, but I don’t think that’s the biggest part, I think there are quite a few guys out there on a par with him in terms of talent, but I think mentality is kind of what sets him apart.
“He’s a risk taker and so confident, but in a good way, and I think that’s what his father trained him to be from a young age,” Jones added in reference to Max’s dad Jos, who was also an F1 driver.
‘Jos the Boss’ used to employ silent treatment on Max, not speaking to him for weeks on end if he had lost a race even at karting level.
“Ocon would have been lucky to have got out of the paddock if Jos was there,” joked Jones. “I love his dad and know him well because he was always around. He was probably a bit over the top and very extreme with his methods, but it worked to make Max the way he is.”