In a Formula One season where they have been unable to challenge for race victories due to the skittishness and sheer speed deficit of their car, the unified determination of the Mercedes team and Lewis Hamilton has kept the former winning machine moving slowly forward as they try to make their way back to the front.
No matter how far they have been behind Red Bull and Ferrari, however far off the pace of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, team and driver have maintained their relentless work ethic and resolve to persevere as best they can. They may not be able to challenge outright, but Mercedes and Hamilton have striven hard enough to give themselves the potential to take advantage in key moments.
Imagine their delight, then, when a chaotic final portion of the Dutch Grand Prix caused by a late safety car left Hamilton in first, with team-mate George Russell behind, separating him and home favourite Verstappen. Mercedes had their best shot at a win all year, and Hamilton the most likely chance of maintaining his record of taking at least one victory in every season he has raced in F1.
But suddenly, incomprehensibly, inexplicably, Mercedes threw it all away. Russell requested a pit stop to switch his medium tyres for softs, which would leave Verstappen exposed on fast rubber of his own and Hamilton hopelessly vulnerable. A bizarre strategy suggestion, surely? Nothing Mercedes would even consider from that position. A given that they would want to have a two-car buffer ahead of Verstappen. Right?
Mercedes heeded Russell’s call. Verstappen waltzed past Hamilton immediately after the re-start and strolled into the distance to take the win. Hamilton was the only man at the front on mediums and dropped to fourth by the chequered flag.
F1 2022 Dutch Grand Prix result
- Max Verstappen – Red Bull – 1:36:42.773
- George Russell – Mercedes – +4.071
- Charles Leclerc – Ferrari – +10.929
- Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – +13.016
- Sergio Perez – Red Bull – +18.168
- Fernando Alonso – Alpine – +18.754
- Lando Norris – McLaren – +19.306
- Carlos Sainz – Ferrari – +20.916
- Esteban Ocon – Alpine – +21.117
- Lance Stroll – Aston Martin – +22.459
- Pierre Gasly – AlphaTauri – +27.009
- Alex Albon – Williams – +30.390
- Mick Schumacher – Haas – +32.995
- Sebastian Vettel – Aston Martin – +36.007
- Kevin Magnussen – Haas – +36.869
- Zhou Guanyu – Alfa Romeo – +37.320
- Daniel Ricciardo – McLaren – +37.764
- Nicholas Latifi – Williams – +1 lap
- Valtteri Bottas – Alfa Romeo – +1 lap
- (DNF) Yuki Tsunoda – AlphaTauri
As soon as the call was made, Hamilton knew the inevitable was coming. “It’s going to be hard to keep that car behind me now guys,” Hamilton wearily retorted over team radio after Verstappen emerged from his cheap pit stop with no buffer separating the pair.
As he tumbled down the order after seeming set to challenge Verstappen for the win, Hamilton chose to air his justified fury in public over the radio.
“I can’t believe you guys f***ed me like this,” he raged. “I can’t tell you how p***ed I am right now.” Russell, on the other hand, revelled in his runner-up spot, laughing and joking with Verstappen in the post-race interviews and lauding the team’s efforts despite the evident strategy mistake they had made.
Russell, of course, did exactly the right thing from his point of view. He wanted to maximise his pace for the rest of the race and ultimately finished higher up the order than if he had stayed out in second on mediums. It is the Mercedes pitwall which was responsible for the fumble by accepting his proposal rather than trying to defend a potential race win as staunchly as they could.
F1 2022 drivers’ standings
- Max Verstappen – 309
- Charles Leclerc – 201
- Sergio Perez – 201
- George Russell – 188
- Carlos Sainz – 175
- Lewis Hamilton – 158
- Lando Norris – 82
- Esteban Ocon – 66
- Fernando Alonso – 59
- Valtteri Bottas – 46
- Kevin Magnussen – 22
- Sebastian Vettel – 20
- Daniel Ricciardo – 19
- Pierre Gasly – 18
- Mick Schumacher – 12
- Yuki Tsunoda – 11
- Zhou Guanyu – 5
- Lance Stroll – 5
- Alex Albon – 4
- Nicholas Latifi – 0
- Nico Hulkenberg – 0
Of course, there is no guarantee that Hamilton and Russell would have kept Verstappen behind had Mercedes stood their ground. But at least there was the potential for that to happen. Instead Mercedes went for the call which gave them no hope whatsoever of winning, and in a season when a single victory would be such a huge achievement, made a decision devoid of seemingly both bravery and logic.
Hamilton specifically thanked only the squad’s mechanics over the radio in his post-race message, while afterwards team principal Toto Wolff insisted that their aim was to win the race by leaving Hamilton out on his own, despite the fact that goal was eminently impossible without a rear gunner to help him. The team, its drivers, and entire workforce had done a superb job across the weekend up until the point the wrong judgement call was made.
Even Wolff’s Red Bull counterpart was bemused by Mercedes’ approach. “I thought they’d keep George out as a rear runner to try and hold Max back,” he said. “But then when they pitted him it gave Max a free run at Lewis, and obviously there was a tyre offset. Max got the job done pretty quickly.”
Charles Leclerc took third for Ferrari, who were up to their old tricks too by pitting the Monegasque’s team-mate Carlos Sainz early in the race without actually having a set of tyres ready, and subsequently earned their driver a five-second time penalty with an unsafe release.
In the end, Verstappen and Red Bull won once again even when the odds seem stacked against them. But this was no story of the favourites overcoming adversity, but rather one of those around them losing their heads.