Verstappen Wins Home Grand Prix As Strategic Nightmares Plague Ferrari And Mercedes

Formula One / 3 Comments

Nobody could pass the Dutchie 'pon the left nor right-hand side.

Cast your minds back to December 2021 and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Latifi binned his Williams into the wall, resulting in the safety car being unleashed. Red Bull and Max Verstappen capitalized on the situation, coming in for a fresh set of soft tires. Hamilton asked his team to do the same, but Mercedes chose to retain the lead.

The rest of the story made F1 history. Michael Masi allowed the cars between them to unlap themselves (a decision later described by the FIA as 'human error' but one that was not determined to be outside of the rules), and Verstappen claimed the victory and his first world championship.

Fast forward to September 2022, and something remarkably similar happened. Hamilton in first, Verstappen in second. A safety car comes out, and, once again, Red Bull uses it to its advantage. Mercedes does not. After all the lapped cars were allowed to unlap themselves, it took Verstappen mere seconds to overtake Hamilton on softer tires.

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Cue the conspiracy theories. According to hardcore Sir Lewis Hamilton fans (a minority, it has to be said), this whole debacle was engineered by Red Bull and its sister team, AlphaTauri. Except the safety car came out after Valtteri Bottas's car stopped working on the main straight. Poor Yuki Tsunoda had already retired by then.

The main reason for the conspiracy is that Tsunoda's retirement was not fully understood. If only they waited for a few hours to get the whole story. Tsunoda felt something was off and wanted to ditch the car. As you do when racing at 200 mph. Thinking he was going to leave the car there, neatly parked at a track exit, he started unbuckling his seatbelt. AlphaTauri then told him to come back in, and after fixing his seatbelt, they sent him back out with the wrecked differential. He had to ditch the car a second time, also in a rather lovely spot with easy access.

There's no conspiracy here, people. Sir/Meneer/Your Excellency Max Verstappen won fair and square.

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Not An Easy Win For Red Bull

Last week, Max Verstappen dominated the Belgian Grand Prix. He was utterly dialed into the fastest car on the track, making the rest of the pack look like they were behind the wheel of a Civic Type R.

This week's victory was not as easy. Red Bull struggled through FP1 and FP2 and finally found its groove during FP3. Verstappen went out during Q3 and set a blistering lap, scoring pole position. The time difference between him and Leclerc was negligible, however.

Zandvoort is a short, technical track that does not play to the strengths of Red Bull's cars. This gave Ferrari and Mercedes a prime opportunity to hit back at the seemingly unbeatable Bulls. It didn't work out, but one can see how close it was looking at the time difference between first place and Russell, Leclerc, and Hamilton behind Verstappen.

At the Belgian Grand Prix, Verstappen crossed the line 18 seconds ahead of Sergio Perez. This week, George Russell was a mere four seconds behind.

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Ferrari Shoots Itself In The Foot (Again)

We had high hopes for Ferrari at Zandvoort. Charles Leclerc did not start on pole, which meant the curse should not have counted. Still, the bad juju was flowing thick in the Ferrari pits.

Ferrari did it all this weekend. It made unsafe releases and left a wheel gun lying around on an active pitlane. Sergio Perez ran right over the said gun and luckily only damaged Ferrari's equipment and not his own.

Carlos Sainz set himself up beautifully in third place, but Ferrari took him out of the race by not bringing out all his tires during his first pitstop. We don't like being overly critical because everyone on the team is under enormous stress, but even a casual observer knows a car has four tires, not three. Then there was an unsafe release during the safety car period at the end of the race, which afforded Sainz a five-second penalty, dropping him to 8th when all was said and done.

Despite Ferrari's best attempts at self-sabotage, Leclerc finished third on the podium, having passed Lewis Hamilton during the race's final stages.

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Sir Hamilton's Conduct Unbecoming Of An Officer

The safety car (brought out by Bottas) provided a prime opportunity to go over to the soft compound for the final few laps. Nearly everyone pitted, but Mercedes first chose to keep its two drivers out there. George Russell remained in contact with the pits for over two minutes (F1TV lets you listen in to a specific driver's radio the whole time), trying to convince them to let him come in for soft tires. Mercedes eventually buckled and let Russell come in, which let Verstappen move into second without a double-Mercedes cushion up front.

Hamilton provided no feedback other than letting the team know that he disagreed with its decision. After getting passed by Verstappen and Leclerc, he was furious. But instead of voicing his frustrations in a controlled fashion, Hamilton lashed out with a slew of profanities aimed at the strategists and his race engineer.

A Hamilton victory, which would have been the first since the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last year, looked a strong possibility until Bottas's car stopped working, leading to a series of events that eventually favored Max Verstappen. But that's just the way the cookie crumbles, sometimes.

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The Rest Of The Grid

Lando Norris had a great weekend, running with the top dogs during qualifying. He did his best to claim some points for McLaren in the ongoing battle between the British team and Alpine, but Fernando Alonso managed to finish one spot ahead in seventh. Esteban Ocon scored more points for the French team, finishing ninth. Daniel Ricciardo was nowhere and ended up in 17th.

The Oscar Piastri saga has now come to a close, with McLaren confirming that he will be racing for them from next year. We look forward to seeing what he can do. The poor lad has already made so many enemies without even turning a wheel, while hope is dwindling for Ricciardo to find another seat in F1. Given his performance this year, teams might be tempted to go for fresher talent, of which there seems to be an abundance waiting in the wings.

Highlights were few and far between for other teams. Lance Stroll picked up a lonely point for Aston Martin in 10th ahead of Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, while Mick Schumacher was the biggest loser in 13th - down five places from where he'd qualified. Latifi once again finished last.

Only seven races remain, and Max Verstappen is sitting pretty on 310 points. In second place is Charles Leclerc on 201 points, matched by Sergio Perez in this, with race wins being the deciding factor between the two. George Russell is currently fourth on 188 points, proving consistency is just as important as sporadic victories. He's already sitting above Carlos Sainz in fifth, who has a much faster car this season.

Max's second championship is all but secure at this point. There are seven Grands Prix left, and Verstappen can afford to miss four of them and still be in the championship lead when he resumes racing. The next race takes place at Monza this weekend. It's the fastest race of the season, so guess who the favorite to win is? The race for second place in the championship is on.

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