PALMER: Could Hamilton have won the 2022 Dutch Grand Prix with a different Safety Car strategy?

Mercedes came closer than ever to a first win of 2022 at Zandvoort before Max Verstappen finally triumphed for Red Bull. But could a different strategy in response to the latest Safety Car have given the Silver Arrows victory? Former F1 driver and F1.com analyst Jolyon Palmer investigates…

Zandvoort was always likely to offer Mercedes a better chance, after missing out on the podium at Spa.

The higher downforce circuits have generally been kinder to them this season and Zandvoort is not that different from Budapest, where George Russell took his first pole position of the year. But, just like in Budapest, this was another race where the team had to settle for second place behind the seemingly untouchable Max Verstappen.

Too often this season qualifying has been an Achilles’ heel for the Silver Arrows, and Sergio Perez’s spin in the final race of Q3 meant they had no chance to improve on their fourth and sixth positions from the opening races in Zandvoort.

HIGHLIGHTS: Watch qualifying action at Zandvoort as Verstappen narrowly beats Leclerc

Toto Wolff later stated that Hamilton was “playing for pole” until he dropped back, and looking at the data, that statement is not false: Hamilton I was a fraction more than Verstappen’s pole time by the time he fell back.

But it is also true that it was likely to end up losing because it was comparatively weak in the race to the finish, where the Mercedes usually lost part of the time due to Red Bull’s impressive top speed. With the Ferraris following Verstappen so closely on Saturday, Hamilton would most likely have finished fourth even without Perez’s yellow flags, unless he pulled off something extra special in the final corner.

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Verstappen’s qualifying lap trail (blue) compared to Russell’s (red) and Hamilton’s (green). 1) The Mercedes comes very close to VER in Sector 1, but a higher top speed allows VER to gain an advantage until T7 and until T8. 2) HAM is faster at T11/12 and has the advantage going into T3, but RUS lags behind. 3) HAM and RUS abort their turns. Even though HAM was ahead, he could have lost 0.2 seconds to Ver and qualified 4th anyway…

However, the best news for Mercedes came on the grid as they took advantage of the 2022 rule change to start on a different tire to their competition.

Too often this year, teams have converged on the same starting tyre, even though they have free choice for the first time in a decade. That’s due to a largely inherent conservative approach among strategists, particularly from teams at the sharp end of the grid where there’s a lot to lose.

When Mercedes saw its rivals put on the soft ones, it opened up its strategic possibilities. They might try one save, while the others would probably have to make two. Track position has been a rare commodity for their car, which is often quick in races, and removing a pit stop gave them the opportunity to defend from the front rather than having to attack from further back.

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How pit stops played out in the Netherlands, with Mercedes starting with mediums and aiming for a one-stop strategy

Without the Safety Cars, virtual and real, I’m sure Hamilton and Verstappen would have finished even, but Verstappen had already shown how easy it was for him to pass when he passed Russell midway through the race. . The racing ability of the Red Bull with its high top speed would probably have resulted in a win for Max anyway, although it’s a shame we were denied that battle.

The final call for Mercedes must have been agonizing and the pressure was greater than ever, given their one-two position with just a dozen laps to go.

I can understand why they were hesitant to take Hamilton out of the lead. Compared to Spa, track position is more important at Zandvoort, and with Russell between Hamilton and Verstappen on their softs, the seven-time champion had a significant buffer for the restart.

The complication came when Russell called his pit stop.

TECH TUESDAY: Why was Red Bull’s pace advantage reduced so drastically at Zandvoort?

Jolyon Palmer analysis: Could Mercedes have won at Zandvoort?

Under the Safety Car, drivers are frantically trying to assess what their best option is, through constant dialogue with the team, before they are locked into their fate. And while the team has the decisive word in the pits, a driver can use his influence to sway the opinion of the team.

Russell did exactly that, as he argued that he was going to be an easy target on his cooling medium tyres, and that he would be better off pitting. Mercedes agreed, and the first thing Hamilton knew was looking in the mirrors as the cars moved down the pit lane and seeing his teammate move out of Verstappen’s path. Hamilton was initially fine with the choice of strategy, but now it was a direct fight with Verstappen on the softs, he was understandably frustrated.

READ MORE: “I’d rather take the risk than win,” says Wolff as he defends Mercedes’ Safety Car strategy at Zandvoort

It was a case of Abu Dhabi again, or even a repeat of Silverstone this year where Leclerc was overwhelmed on the restart and fell backwards. Hamilton could do nothing to deny Verstappen the lead and the Dutchman went on to delight the 100,000 home fans, with Russell’s strategy earning him second place.

In retrospect, it was a brilliant decision by Russell and one that Hamilton could have made as well, especially given the difference in seniority and experience between the two.

2022 Dutch Grand Prix: Russell calls late to stop for soft tires while behind safety car

However, in reality, the circumstances were different. Russell had nothing to lose by fighting. He was going to finish second at best, but probably third with Verstappen, so pitting guaranteed a safer finish and a chance to beat his team-mate. For Hamilton, the pit choice was much more difficult as, unlike Russell, he had a chance to win.

Once Mercedes faced a car, they should have faced both. Actually, this was his only hope of winning as well. In a normal world the two cars would have emerged behind Verstappen to finish second and third and maximize his points, however there is a slim chance Hamilton could have emerged ahead of Verstappen at the end, had George backed Verstappen up enough. Verstappen for a double stack below. car insurance.

LOOK: SAY WHAT?! Sainz pleads with the stewards as Hamilton fires up the bluewaves on Zandvoort’s best team radio

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Extrapolating from the race pace of both Mercedes and assuming Hamilton pits after Verstappen to lead during the Safety Car restart, our analysis showed Verstappen could have narrowly won ahead of the Silver Arrows.

He must be careful not to drive ‘unnecessarily slow’ and incur the ire of the stewards in these cases, but given that they also had a car between them, it is possible that Hamilton could have emerged ahead of Verstappen with both in new softs. in the end. Was this his chance?

From fourth and sixth on the grid they still scored good points and Russell got the best brilliant result of his career. But for the team, and for Hamilton, there are only seven races left to achieve that elusive 2022 victory.

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