Mercedes’ George Russell has affirmed that Max Verstappen would have emerged the winner of the Dutch Grand Prix even had the Silver Arrows left the 24-year-old out on track.
Russell started the race sixth behind fourth-placed Sir Lewis Hamilton after both Mercedes drivers were denied a real shot at pole position on Saturday due to a spin for Sergio Perez, who started fifth.
Verstappen took pole ahead of the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, and it was that trio that led the way in the opening stages.
Sainz was knocked back down the order though when he was called into the pits, and one of his mechanics was stood in the wrong part of the pit box, so had to make his way back round to fit the left rear.
That stop put the Spaniard out of contention, and it lifted Hamilton to third behind Verstappen and Leclerc.
Both Russell and Hamilton had started on the Mediums with the aim of going long and making a one-stop, compared to the two-stop for the two leaders, who had started on Softs.
After Mercedes had pitted their drivers for Hards, though, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed, giving Verstappen a cheap stop.
Leclerc had already pitted though, so he ended up behind the Mercedes drivers, who were now charged with chasing down Verstappen.
Another twist emerged when the full Safety Car was deployed and, while Russell pitted for fresh Softs, Hamilton was left out on track.
This put the seven-time champion ahead of Verstappen, who had just pitted, but he was now vulnerable to the Dutchman.
Verstappen passed Hamilton on the restart, and was then cleared by both Russell and Leclerc as he ended the race fourth.
One suggestion after the race was that Mercedes could have left Russell out along with Hamilton, so the 37-year-old would have track position, and he also would have had his team-mate right behind him shielding him from Verstappen.
Russell does not believe this would have worked.
“I think what would’ve happened if we both stayed out is that Max would’ve won the race and we would’ve probably finished behind Charles as well,” he said.
Verstappen was also confident that he would have passed both Mercedes in the closing stages of the race if there were both in front of him.
“I think I would’ve got both of them anyway if they would have stayed out, I think it was a smart call to pit,” he said, referring to Hannah Schmitz’s decision to box the reigning champion.
Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, also stated that the pace of the Red Bull would have enabled Verstappen to win the race regardless of whether he had one or both Mercedes in front of him.
“I think the Red Bull has so much straight-line speed, on the same tyre we have nothing, I think there are so many more positives to take,” said the Austrian.
“Second and fourth is annoying, but we had a good race car here, we had to take risks.”
Hamilton had initially berated his team on the radio, but apologised after the race, saying that, in the heat of the moment, he reached “breaking point.”
He also affirmed that the glass is “half full” after a strong weekend for Mercedes, and indicated his belief that the eight-time champions can yet win races in 2022.