The talking point out of the Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix is not Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s win but the strategy call from Mercedes with regards to their two drivers, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
During a Safety Car period, when Valtteri Bottas stopped his car on track, Red Bull chose to box Max Verstappen for soft comped tires. Mercedes initially kept both Hamilton and Russell out for track position with Lewis now inheriting the lead on Medium compound tires. A lap into the Safety Car period, Mercedes boxed Russell for a set of soft compounds moving him into third behind Max and Lewis, who was still leading.
At the restart, Lewis couldn’t withstand the pace of the Red Bull and quickly lost the lead but salt was added to the wound when his teammate, Russell, passed him and eventually the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc made quick work of Lewis as well leaving Hamilton in 4th and off the podium.
This upset Lewis and he told the team over the radio:
“I can’t believe you guys screwed me like that, I can’t tell you how pissed I am right now.”
In the heat of the moment, tempers flare and emotions run high. Having worn Medium tires trying to hold off Verstappen, Russell and Leclerc on new Soft compounds wasn’t going to work. This left many fans scratching their heads as to why Mercedes wouldn’t have left George out as well to be tail gunner for Lewis.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff offered this explanation:
“Lewis was ahead, so you always have a little bit longer with the call [for those behind]. You can do two things; you can either pit Lewis and lose track position against Verstappen and leave George out screwed, or you can pit both, screwed. So it was worth taking the risk.
“If you do that [leave both out] you have both on an old tyre, but this would have guaranteed second and third and we wouldn’t have raced for the win with Lewis.”
When asked if it would have made sense to box both drivers for Soft tires, Wolff said:
“I think the Red Bull has so much straightline speed that all on the same tyre out there is no way we are winning,”
“I think we can look at the positives and this is what I just discussed with Lewis, there is so much more positive to take.
“Of course second and fourth is annoying but we felt we had a good race car here. That’s what is most important and you’ve got to take risks where we are.”
In the end, the team chose to go for the win, not finish second and third. They gambled and it didn’t work. By boxing George, it gave them a second place but no win for Lewis. I have to assume they felt the Medium tires would cycle and be more competitive than they were and if I’m honest, I’m not sure Lewis did the restart as best as he could. He may have been better to wait until nearly the start/finish line to neuter the long straight and tow that Max got.
Also, I am not sure leaving them both out on Mediums would have ensured a 2, 3 finish as Leclerc’s Ferrari was faster on Softs so it may have been a 3, 4 finish regardless…possibly.
How did you see the strategy call? I am not sure Mercedes did much wrong given their desire to try to steal a win. They didn’t have a car, on pace, that could win so strategy, track position and luck were what they were betting on. Mercedes gambled on the track position but also covered the compound/health of the tires of their main competitors with George. They covered both scenarios and I may have made the same call.
This was a race where Mercedes were going head-to-head with Red Bull’s strategists and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It was reminiscent of Abu Dhabi last year with Lewis a sitting duck as Max, on fresh tires, was directly behind him with precious few laps remaining.
How did you see the strategy? Was it the right or wrong call and not just in hindsight, how would you have called it?