Force India team boss Otmar Szafnauer has defended Esteban Ocon’s actions after colliding with Max Verstappen during the Brazilian Grand Prix and confirmed the team instructed him to overtake the race leader.

Ocon clashed with Verstappen at the start of Lap 44 while trying to unlap himself at Turn 2, diving up the inside which sent both drivers into a spin, which saw the French driver slapped with a 10-second stop/go penalty for the incident by the FIA Stewards.

While Verstappen effectively lost the race as Lewis Hamilton retook the lead following the incident, the Red Bull driver sought out Ocon and aggressively confronted him in the FIA garage which has caused the governing body to launch an inquiry into the flashpoint.

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Szafnauer says Ocon was only following team orders to overtake Verstappen, as permitted in Formula 1 rules allowing cars to unlap themselves, and shot down conspiracy theories claiming he intentionally hit the Red Bull driver due to his Mercedes links.

“That’s a conspiracy theory and I doubt a racing driver is thinking about his drive for 2020 with what he does today. Absolutely not,” Szafnauer told Sky Sports F1. “Esteban came on the radio and said can I unlap myself because I am quicker and we said yes go ahead. That’s it.

“At that point he had a tyre advantage and we probably would have had a tyre advantage for five, six, seven, eight laps.

“Whatever Max was doing to gently bring his tyres in, we didn’t need to do that. At six laps with a half-second tyre advantage, three seconds, we were racing other people and can’t get stuck even though it is behind the race leader. So yes we had to do it. In our race we had to do it.”

Ocon appears to be out of a full-time F1 drive for 2019, set to be replaced at Force India by Lance Stroll, but is tipped to be a favourite to join Mercedes in 2020 alongside Hamilton.

After the Brazilian GP penalty Ocon ended the race in 14th place.

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