Christian Horner thought Mercedes had made Dutch Grand Prix victory easier to achieve for Max Verstappen than it needed to be in the decisive stages.
Although Verstappen had started from pole position in his home race, his 10th win of the season turned out to be anything but straightforward – due to the pace of, and the original strategy deployed by, Mercedes.
The climax was shaped by a Safety Car period triggered by Valtteri Bottas’ retirement, with his car stationary on the inside at the end of the pits straight.
Lewis Hamilton was making the best of an initial one-stop strategy compared to Verstappen’s two-stopper and leading the race, but Mercedes chose to split their options during the Safety Car period. They chose to leave the seven-time former World Champion out in front to keep track position.
Verstappen made a pit-stop for fresh soft tyres and Hamilton’s team-mate, George Russell, demanded to do likewise. That left the Red Bull right on Hamilton’s tail when racing resumed, without the protection of having the other Mercedes as a buffer that could have allowed him to build a gap on Verstappen had Russell defended effectively.
It was that split strategy that left Red Bull team principal Horner with eyebrows raised.
“I was quite surprised they didn’t leave George out strategically as a rear gunner for Lewis,” Horner told reporters afterwards.
“When he pitted, it gave a straight fight between Max and Lewis with a tyre offset.
“My biggest concern was it would be two against one. But when George seemed to pit himself, that freed up a one-on-one fight with Max versus Lewis.
“By the time they came past us on the pit wall, Max was already alongside and thereafter it was a matter of controlling the race.”
What a day!!!
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) September 4, 2022
Unlike Russell, who had appeared to influence the Mercedes strategists with a team radio message, Verstappen said he had left the decision to his own pit wall – but inwardly knew a pit-stop was the right choice as he said there was “no way” he could have stayed out on hard tyres.
“I didn’t request it. You have to trust your team as well to make the right calls, and they did,” said Verstappen, who is now 109 points ahead of Charles Leclerc in his Drivers’ World Championship title defence.
“They boxed me, put the soft tyres on and then we dropped back, but of course George pitted for softs, so we are back into P2.
“Surprisingly we had a really good restart, and then with the extra top speed we have over Mercedes I could get a run into Turn 1.”