Max Verstappen’s father Jos made fun of Mercedes’ decision to keep Lewis Hamilton on medium tyres at the Dutch Grand Prix, by making a reference to the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. We give our response.
At the Dutch Grand Prix, Mercedes decided to keep Lewis Hamilton in P1 on old medium tyres during the Safety Car period, leaving him vulnerable to Max Verstappen, who switched to fresh softs.
The situation which happened then was kind of reminiscent of what happened in the final lap of the controversial 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with Verstappen easily overtaking the Briton.
However, the Abu Dhabi situation only happened because race director Michael Masi broke the rules which govern the use of the Safety Car, and Mercedes had no way of knowing this would happen while they were deciding on Lewis’ strategy.
Verstappen then easily won that race and the 2021 championship, but the situation led many to consider this win not legitimate.
Well, Max’s father Jos Verstappen chose to make fun of Mercedes’ strategy choice at Zandvoort, with a reference to said race.
“It was super exciting, but Red Bull was back on top,” Jos told De Telegraaf.
“And Max has tried all the tires and indicated which compound would work best. Mercedes also went well, they definitely had a chance to win. But luckily it turned out well for us.
“And you would think that Mercedes learned from last year’s race in Abu Dhabi, but apparently not,” the Dutchman concluded with a smile.
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Not only is it somewhat not wise for Jos to remind everyone of what happened in Abu Dhabi, especially since the FIA themselves removed Masi from the position of race director, and admitted he had made “a human error”, but also because to say that Mercedes chose the wrong strategy back then, is completely false.
As we already previously wrote, the last lap of the race would not have happened had the rules been followed.
In short, once the Safety Car came out due to Nicolas Latifi’s crash at the exit of turn 14, five laps before the end of the race, Red Bull called Max Verstappen into the pits to put him on fresh soft tyres.
Mercedes, however, decided to keep Lewis Hamilton (who had a comfortable lead at the time) out on old worn-down medium tyres, because they didn’t want to give up his track position to Verstappen.
It has to be understood that, since Verstappen didn’t have the pace to overtake Lewis on the track, Red Bull had to always do the opposite of what Hamilton does, in hopes that if luck strikes, he’ll have an opportunity to overtake through strategy.
Since Lewis was ahead on the track, Mercedes were the first team to decide if they were going to pit, and they decided against that, because had they pitted Lewis, Red Bull would have kept Verstappen out, and he would take the lead of the race.
Now, this is where it gets tricky. Mercedes knew that with only five laps remaining, it was impossible for the marshals to clear the track of Latifi’s wrecked car in time for the race to be restarted.
The rules state that once the track is cleared, the lapped cars need to unlap themselves, and only at the end of the following lap can the race be restarted.
This means that by allowing Verstappen to gain track position over Lewis, Mercedes would have given the Dutch driver the race win on a silver platter, because there were not enough laps left for the procedure to be followed and for the race to be restarted. At that point it was clear that the race would end under the Safety Car.
However, race director Michael Masi then arbitrarily decided not to follow the rules, supposedly because race control wanted the race to end under green flag conditions.
To make this happen, Masi broke two rules on the penultimate lap of the race. First he allowed only the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves (those behind them were not allowed to do so), and then he restarted the race immediately upon the start of the next lap, not allowing for the required one more lap under the Safety Car.
Needless to say that this allowed Verstappen, who was now immediately behind Lewis and on fresh soft tyres, to easily overtake him on the final lap, a lap that according to the rules should have ended under the Safety Car.
So, the finish of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix had nothing to do with Mercedes’ strategy, it was actually a case of the race director deliberately choosing not to follow the rules, which favoured one driver over the rest of the field.
For Jos Verstappen to point to Abu Dhabi in an effort to poke fun at Mercedes, considering what actually happened there, is at the very least unwise, but possibly even in poor taste.