When Max Verstappen shoved Esteban Ocon on Sunday in the weighing area at the Brazilian Grand Prix, fans were given a glimpse of what could be Formula One’s next big rivalry.
The pair came to blows after the race because Verstappen was furious at being denied victory by a collision with Ocon, who was attempting to unlap himself going into turn two – a move he argued he had made successfully seven times during the race.
While the Red Bull span off the track, world champion Lewis Hamilton was able to glide through and seal the constructors’ title for Mercedes with a win. Moments later Verstappen, 21, lost his cool as he repeatedly lashed out at long-term foe Ocon, 22.
The pair’s history dates back to their go-karting days almost a decade ago and their fierce rivalry has continued through the ranks as they have risen to F1, confirming their status as two of the stand-out drivers of their generation.
“What a f***ing idiot,” Verstappen shouted down his team radio after their most recent coming together. “I hope I can’t find him now in the paddock.”
Unfortunately for himself, he did. Speaking after the race, a still-heated Verstappen insisted Ocon had “always been an idiot”, before he was filmed repeatedly pushing the Frenchman – a move that has earned him two days’ public service from F1 chiefs.
Go-karting and F3
Ocon has admitted the pair are “not friends at all” and last year revealed they had previously come together when karting as teenagers – sparking a feud that is yet to abate.
“I was running at a very slow speed,” Ocon told Sky Sports, recalling their prior crash. “I pushed him out in the previous race and in this race it was basically practice and I was going slow. He crashed into my back and broke my chassis. I was nearly injured, so that’s when it really started. My dad went into his den and said ‘it’s 1-1 now’.”
It wasn’t to be the last time they would come together. The pair were involved in an intense season-long battle during the 2014 F3 European Championship, in which Ocon came out victorious.
That year saw wheel-to-wheel racing throughout as they competed for the title – literally, on one occasion, as their tyres bumped at a race in Moscow as the season approached its conclusion.
In Austria the following weekend the pair would collide and this time around it was Verstappen who caused Ocon to spin as they raced into the first corner.
Despite that, Ocon went on to win the championship, 67 points clear of Verstappen, who came third, but the Dutchman did win more races over the course of the season.
The next year, Verstappen – son of former F1 driver Jos – joined the Red Bull Junior Team programme and was soon after given a seat at their second team, Toro Rosso, for the 2015 campaign.
Ocon admitted it was “hard to take” in the wake of his championship victory, but joined the Mercedes Young Driver programme himself.
The 22-year-old spent a season in the GP3 series, which he also won, before joining the Mercesdes-Benz team in the DTM touring car series alongside a role with Renault F1 as their reserve driver.
He spent the second half of the 2016 season racing for the now-defunct Manor team, and has been with Force India for the past two years.
His seat for next season is under threat, with speculation that to Lance Stroll – whose father, Lawrence, led the consortium that bought the team earlier this year, could replace him.
There is still also the possibility that he could join Williams, who are yet to confirm who will partner newcomer George Russell next year, but Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has given him assurances of a place in F1 for 2020, at least.
Last weekend’s intense battle came while the pair were not even battling for track position. Once Ocon is able to land himself a drive in one of the faster cars on the grid, then the fireworks could truly begin.