Did Red Bull really cheat to ensure Max Verstappen won his home race?

Yuki Tsunoda suffered a bizarre retirement at the Dutch Grand Prix.

Controversy reigned again in Formula 1 as Max Verstappen won the Dutch Grand Prix following a bizarre incident involving AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.

We should really start by answering the question everyone is asking – no, Red Bull did not ask them to help them win; there are no tin foil hats here.

It was a chaotic series of events that aided Max Verstappen on his way to what was looking like a dominant win anyway, but what exactly happened?

Verstappen led Charles Leclerc off the line having started on pole on Sunday, and the pair were on the two-stop strategy having started on Softs.

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The Mercedes duo of Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell behind had started on the Mediums, and their plan was to execute the one-stop onto the Hards.

Verstappen and Leclerc made their first stop, putting Mercedes one and two out front and, after Hamilton and Russell made their respective stops, they encountered Sergio Perez, who had been sent long following his earlier stop to hold them both up.

The Mexican fended off the seven-time champion for a couple of laps, but he got through, before Russell swiftly did the same.

So, the chase was on. Hamilton and Russell knew they needed to gain as much time as they could to give themselves a healthy gap when Verstappen and Leclerc made their second stop.

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The Monegasque pitted onto another set of Mediums, putting him back into fourth, but things got very interesting from there.

Tsunoda stopped just after he had pitted, reporting over the radio that one of his wheels was loose.

AlphaTauri later discovered that this was not the case, so they told him to return to the pits slowly so that they could change his tyres again and figure out what was going wrong.

The 22-year-old had also loosened his safety harness when he stopped initially, as he thought his afternoon was done, so the mechanics had to fasten him back in again.

However, moments after he was released – now multiple laps down and plum last, Tsunoda stopped again – he did indeed have a problem, it was just not the issue he initially thought it was.

The young Japanese driver stopped by the side of the track, and caused a Virtual Safety Car.

This gave Verstappen a cheap stop, so he could pit and re-join ahead of the Mercedes cars, and all three of them were able to pit and re-join ahead of Leclerc.

Following a late Safety Car, Verstappen, on fresh tyres, passed Hamilton, who had been left out on old Mediums, to take the win.

Russell and Leclerc – who had also boxed for fresh rubber after Valtteri Bottas’ retirement – later made their way through to round out the podium places and leave Hamilton in fourth.

Mercedes fans were fuming at what they perceived might have been foul play by AlphaTauri, and memories of the controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix came flooding back – here we go again.

Abu Dhabi was a mistake by race then director Michael Masi; the FIA accepted that, but the Australian had so many duties to perform, and so many regulations to adhere to, that he accidentally influenced the championship in a way he never meant to.

A similar sort of thing happened in Zandvoort; AlphaTauri made a mistake.

There was no malice, there was no trickery and no slight of hand; it was purely coincidence that it was the Red Bull junior team that caused the influential Virtual Safety Car.

Fans on social media, as we have come to expect, did not take a step back to consider this, and they started launching abuse at Red Bull’s head of race strategy, Hannah Schmitz.

The genius on the Red Bull pit wall has repeatedly come up with absolute blinders this season to help both Verstappen and Sergio Perez win races, and she did so again in Zandvoort.

But her quick calls did not involve manipulating AlphaTauri; she saw an opportunity presented by the Faenza-based squad’s mishaps, and she took it.

Further, what reason would Red Bull have to cheat? Verstappen, after his win, is now 109 points clear of Leclerc in the Drivers’ Standings, while the Austrian side lead Ferrari by 135 points in the teams’ fight.

Risking getting disqualified from the championship despite, though they will not acknowledge it, having both titles in the bag already, would be a nonsense.

What should be said is that AlphaTauri do need to be investigated, and they do need to be in a bit of trouble for what they did.

Not once, but twice, they sent Tsunoda on his way with the car in an unsafe condition.

If there was a chance that his wheel was loose, they should have told him to jump out and retire, but they risked potentially putting safety at risk by telling him to drive back round.

The fact that the wheel was not loose seems irrelevant; if the car felt unsafe to drive – which clearly it did – then telling Tsunoda to drive it on a live racetrack was totally irresponsible on AlphaTauri’s part.

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Then, after he had made his stop, they sent him out for a second time despite Tsunoda reporting that something felt off with the car.

The Red Bull junior driver was not on the lead lap, he risked blocking other drivers heading into Turn Three when he re-joined, and by stopping, AlphaTauri had caused a completely unnecessary Virtual Safety Car, disrupting the race.

It was not foul play, but it was negligent, and it was a dangerous mistake that AlphaTauri ought not to make again.