Tsunoda VSC ruined six-lap shootout for Dutch GP win, says Mercedes

Mercedes believes Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen would have faced a six-lap shootout for victory at Zandvoort had it not been for the Virtual Safety Car period.

Mercedes made an ambitious one-stop strategy work by fitting Lewis Hamilton and George Russell with the hard at the end of their first stint, bringing them into contention for victory.

Red Bull committed to a two-stop strategy with Verstappen, who was set to emerge from the pits behind both Mercedes cars after making his final pit stop.

But a VSC called following Yuki Tsunoda's stoppage on lap 44 gave Verstappen the chance to pit and retain track position ahead of Hamilton and Russell, prompting Mercedes to bring its drivers in again.

Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff revealed after the race that the team's predictions suggested victory was possible had it not been for the VSC, owing to the gap to Verstappen and the need to pass two cars, as well as the reduced degradation of the hard tyre.

"The simulation says that Max would have come out eight seconds behind us with 20 laps to go," explained Wolff.

"He would have probably pitted on the hard at that time and I think we would have had a fair shot at the win.

"The race planner said the win is on. Tight, but on."

Asked when Verstappen would have caught up, Wolff replied: "I would have said about six laps from the end. It was very close."

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT03

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT03

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

While Mercedes thought the VSC denied it a chance of victory, Red Bull claimed it was in fact the bigger loser from Tsunoda's stoppage as it scuppered its strategy plans.

The team had intended to keep Verstappen out long enough so he could take soft tyres for the final stint after the Dutchman stressed he did not want to use the hards.

"Max was conserving tyres, so he wasn't killing the tyres and the tyres that came off his car were still in pretty decent shape," explained Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

"That gave us the confidence to go back onto the soft tyre. But the Virtual Safety Car couldn't have really come at a worse moment. That's at the point we had to convert."

Verstappen said the timing of the VSC was "a bit unfortunate" and that he was "clearly lacking a little bit of pace" on the hard tyre compared to both Mercedes, which switched to mediums.

"I think the gap was still big enough to manage it to the end," said Verstappen.

"But they would have definitely gotten a lot closer than I think the 11-and-a-half seconds it was at the time."

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Could Mercedes have beaten Verstappen to Dutch GP victory?
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