Following a strategy-heavy Dutch Grand Prix, Mercedes have been criticised by fans for depriving Lewis Hamilton of a ‘well-earned’ podium
Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix offered a host of thrills for viewers — following another flawless drive from Max Verstappen at his home ground, Lewis Hamilton crossed the line in P4, with a host of strategy calls forming the core of the race’s fascinating 72-lap story.
While Mercedes’ Hamilton and George Russel showed good pace through the race, outshining Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc on the Circuit Zandvoort’s steep banked corners, it seemed as if this was going to be another day at the office — with the circuit’s small number of overtake-friendly sections leading to expectations of a dull snoozefest for a ‘guaranteed’ Verstappen win.
It was around the 50-lap mark where things really got interesting — right from the pit lane. After some confusion regarding a misfired tyre refit for Yuki Tsunoda, the lone Japanese driver found himself stationary for 31 seconds — only to leave the pit lane, and pull over on lap 48, prompting the release of a virtual safety car (VSC).
This triggered Verstappen and both Mercedes drivers to pull in for mediums. While the Silver Arrows managed to trump Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, the race resumed on Lap 50, with Verstappen leading by 12+ seconds, prompting the first of many frustrating words for Hamilton.
Chipping away at Verstappen’s lead through the next few laps, Hamilton and Russell made up for lost time with a series of great sectors, before finding an interesting opportunity as ex-Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo slowed to a halt due to engine failure.
After the next VSC, Verstappen decided to pit for soft tyres instead of his existing hards. It’s here where Mercedes made a crucial play — with both Hamilton and Russell leading the pack, the team decided to pull Russell in for softs at the 24-year-old’s request, giving up a 1-2 advantage over Verstappen to instead create a Hamilton-Verstappen-Russell podium ‘sandwich’.
Hamilton felt the irritation as the safety car was pulled out on Lap 60. “It’s going to be hard to keep that car behind me now,” he muttered, right before Verstappen used his Red Bull’s terrifying pace to blast past Hamilton — who had no defense with Russell out of the picture.
Furious at having the lead taken away from him by his 2021 top rival, insult was added to injury as Hamilton found himself overtaken by his teammate on Lap 64, prompting a somewhat rare expletive-ridden rant on team radio.
“That was the biggest f**k up,” seethed the seven-time-world champion. “I can’t believe you guys ****ed me. I can’t tell you how pissed I am.”
It’s certainly been a frustrating season for Hamilton, who after dominating the sport for around a decade, was brought to a humbling descent by Verstappen, who has won his fourth race in a row — just one away from equalling Hamilton’s own win-streak record. Russell matched his top race result with P2, as Charles Leclerc quietly snapped up P3. Struck off the podium by the end of the race, Hamilton was clearly dejected — brushing past apologies from his team and boss Toto Wolff, while complimenting the engineers’ admittedly top-notch efforts on the weekend.
“There are positives to take,” muttered Wolff after the race. “Second and fourth, yes it’s annoying, but we had a good race car here and that’s most important. And you’ve got to take risks, where we are.”
“My apologies to the team because I don’t even remember what I said,” shared Hamilton after the race. “It was like I just lost it for a second, but I think they know it’s just so much passion.
“We were just challenged with a lot of things, with the VSCs, and the Safety Cars,” added Hamilton. “I think the strategy and the car had been so good up on to that point, the pit stops were fantastic, the best that we had had all year. It was geeing me up, I was thinking the guys are really, really on it today, we are all on it. I was really hopeful that we were going to get a one-two together as a team.
The incident — which took a lot of heat off Ferrari’s recent strategy woes and placed it on Mercedes instead — spurred a flurry of tweets, memes, and commentary on social media.
Most interestingly, the strategy call from Mercedes prompted a reaction from Nico Rosberg. Rosberg, who had one of the most intense team rivalries ever-observed in modern F1, was infamous for battling against Hamilton — eventually winning the championship and quitting the sport after duking it out with his childhood karting buddy.
“Our race pace seems to be better or as good as everyone. So, if we can just close that up – if we finished the lap yesterday, we would have been third or second perhaps and we would have been in a much different position in that race,” Hamilton added.
“So, I’m taking all these positives forward. So grateful for the team and their hard work because it’s been a tough slog for all of them. And yeah, let’s not give up.”
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