Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes Lewis Hamilton would have been fighting for victory with Max Verstappen at the end of the 2022 Dutch Grand Prix had it not been for the Virtual Safety Car.
The seven-time World Champion started Sunday’s race fourth on the grid, but Mercedes‘ one-stop strategy helped him and and teammate George Russell, who started sixth, leapfrog the two Ferraris and challenge for victory.
Red Bull and Max Verstappen opted for a two-stop strategy, which put have put the pole sitter behind the two Silver Arrows after his final pit stop.
Unfortunately for Mercedes, Yuki Tsunoda‘s stoppage on track and the subsequent Virtual Safety Car on Lap 44 changed proceedings, as it allowed Verstappen to pit and retain track position, with Mercedes bringing both their drivers in for fresh rubber in response.
Without it, Wolff says Mercedes‘ predictions stated they had a chance at victory.
“The simulation says that Max would have come out eight seconds behind us with 20 laps to go,” Wolff said following the race.
“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.
“He would have caught us about six laps from the end. It was very close.”
Wolff wary of Tsunoda issue
Tsunoda‘s problems began when he suspected a wheel wasn’t properly attached. AlphaTauri told him to remain on track, and after doing so, he switched his engine off ahead of what was an expected retirement.
However, after the team told him the wheels were safely secured, he was told to restart the car and head to the pits, where he would be fitted for new tyres.
While in the pits his belts had to be tightened, attracting the attention of the stewards. Once he returned to the track, he reported the same issue, with AlphaTauri telling him to find a safe place to park the car.
The unusual situation benefitted Verstappen, prompting speculation, and Wolff admits it’s something he would look into more closely if the World Championship was at stake.
“If we were to fight for a championship, that would be something that I would closely look at,” said Wolff.
“I think what needs to be investigated for the safety of drivers and everybody out there is the driver stopped, unbuckled, did a full lap and came in.
“The problem wasn’t solved, they put the seat belts back on and he drove out and stopped the car again.
“That probably has changed the outcome of the race that we maybe could have won. But this word ‘maybe’ or not, it’s irrelevant for me. I’m not thinking about that anymore, it’s gone.”