Max Verstappen’s second consecutive Dutch Grand Prix victory has been thrown into controversy, after claims that Yuki Tsunoda was purposefully made to retire have arisen.
Up until Lap 45 at Zandvoort, Mercedes looked like they were potentially going to claim their first victory of the season.
With Sir Lewis Hamilton attempting a one-stop, Mercedes’ strategists had determined that race leader Verstappen would be eight seconds behind the seven-time World Champion after completing the second-stop of his two-stop strategy.
The race would’ve seen a grandstand finish had this happened; however, the Dutchman was able to make a cheap pit-stop after Tsunoda’s stricken AT03 brought out the Virtual Safety Car.
Fans have questioned whether Tsunoda actually had a problem, though, with the Japanese driver having confused virtually the entire F1 community.
Tsunoda pulled off the circuit on Lap 45 after reporting to his team that the front-left tyre wasn’t fitted properly after leaving the pits that lap; however, the team told him that the tyre was absolutely fine.
The young driver was told to continue driving again and to return to the pits.
Tsunoda drove round very slowly before re-entering the pits, where he was fitted with another set of tyres.
The AlphaTauri pit-crew also appeared to redo Tsunoda’s seatbelt, something which Tsunoda refused to admit he’d undone.
After exiting the pits, Tsunoda again complained that something was wrong, before being told by his team to stop the car, resulting in the Virtual Safety Car that cost the Silver Arrows victory.
Tsunoda failed to really reveal anything after the race, with the AlphaTauri driver keeping his cards close to his chest.
“I thought there was an issue at the left rear, so I got told by my engineer to stop,” said Tsunoda.
“But we didn’t see any clear issue in the data. That is why I got back to the pits to fit a new tyre. After that, we saw a clear issue in the data and that is why we stopped.
“When I accelerated from the pit exit, it felt as if only one wheel was having wheelspin. It was like I was drifting down the straight and had to counter-steer.”
Whilst Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff doesn’t believe Tsunoda was told to stop to benefit Verstappen, he does think the whole situation needs to be investigated as a “safety” concern.
“If we were fighting a championship, this would be something I would closely look at,” Wolff revealed.
“What needs to be investigated for the safety of drivers, and everybody out there, is that the driver stopped, unbuckled, did a full lap, came in; the problem wasn’t solved, they put the seatbelts back on and he drove out and stopped the car again.
“That probably changed the outcome of a race we maybe could have won. The simulation said Max would have come out eight seconds behind us (after his second stop without the VSC) and we would have had a fair shot, and the race planner said the win was on.
“Max would have caught Lewis about eight laps from the end. It would have been very close,” admitted the Mercedes boss.
Tsunoda has since been awarded a 10-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, for driving in “unsafe conditions”.
The FIA later revealed that Tsunoda’s retirement was due to a problem with his differential.