The Mercedes F1 Team came the closest they’ve been all season to tasting victory; however, a Virtual Safety Car proved to be the potentially defining factor in the Silver Arrows’ winless streak extending.
The Dutch Grand Prix was the first time this season where both Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were able to match the leading pace in both qualifying and the race, but their efforts were short-lived after things out of their control unravelled.
Hamilton started fourth and Russell started sixth; however, both should’ve started higher after being unable to finish their final lap in qualifying.
Whilst both were setting times capable of the top three, the duo were forced into aborting their laps after Sergio Pérez span ahead of them.
This brought out the yellow flags, meaning anybody still on a hot lap was forced into slowing down.
With this in mind, Mercedes opted to start both drivers on the Medium compound, whilst everyone else started on the Softs.
Whilst the two Brits struggled for pace at the start, they quickly got up to speed once their tyres were fully up to temperature.
The German team looked like they’d planned the perfect strategy halfway through the race, as both Hamilton and Russell were set to overtake race leader Max Verstappen when the Dutchman came in for his second stop.
Mercedes were attempting a one-stop strategy with both drivers, which appeared to be working a treat.
However, a VSC to rescue Yuki Tsunoda’s bizarrely stricken AlphaTauri gave Verstappen the free pit-stop he was looking for, as he managed to get his stop done during the VSC, resulting in the 24-year-old maintaining the race lead.
Mercedes then opted to double-stack their drivers, with the advantage they had over Verstappen having vanished.
They did; however, take the race lead not long after, as the full Safety Car was used due to Valtteri Bottas having come to a stop on the main straight.
Verstappen chose to pit again for Soft tyres, whilst both Mercedes drivers moved into first and second after opting initially to continue on the Mediums.
This saw Hamilton take the race lead, but the seven-time World Champion ended up finishing fourth after Russell pitted for Softs.
Hamilton at the restart was a sitting duck, after being one of the only drivers to remain on the Medium tyres.
Russell went on to claim second but is certain the Silver Arrows would’ve won without the VSC.
“I really think we could have,” Russell said to the Formula 1 website.
“We lost a lot of time at the beginning and ultimately, we lost a lot of race time after a bad qualifying. Had we been within touching distance of Max after stint one, I see no reason why we wouldn’t have fought for victory.
“It’s really, really promising, what we’re showing as a team, and it’s exciting for the rest of the season.
“To be honest, we knew we had really good pace and we thought there was a genuine chance we could fight for victory for Lewis.
“He did a really great race and as a team we deserved a better result and unfortunately, that’s just how it goes sometimes. And it’s very easy retrospectively, but really proud and pleased with the pace that we showed.”
It was actually Russell’s decision to fit the Soft tyres at the end, with the call coming from the former Williams Racing driver rather than the team.
In the end, it was a call that got Russell a podium finish, as he would’ve likely finished fourth or fifth had he remained on the Medium compound.
“I felt very strongly about pitting for the soft; I don’t know if you heard the radio or not but I was adamant that was the correct call,” added Russell.
“Potentially I thought the team was probably going to make that call anyway, as it makes sense to split the cars in a situation like that.
“Obviously Lewis being the lead car, it’s a bit more tricky, but I’m surprised we didn’t pit initially but we came through the pit lane; ultimately it was a free pit stop, so yeah, very glad we made that decision.”
Some have questioned if Mercedes were correct in allowing Russell to box for the Softs, after leaving Hamilton with no defence to those behind.
The Brit is certain that it was the right call, as otherwise they would’ve finished third and fourth at best.
“It’s so easy in hindsight but I think what would’ve happened if we both stayed out is that Max would still have easily won the race and we would’ve both finished behind Charles as well,” said the 24-year-old.
“As a team, finishing second and fourth is not quite the result we probably deserved today; we should probably have both been standing on that podium, but it’s so difficult in the heat of the moment.”