Lewis Hamilton came close to spoiling the Max Verstappen party at the Dutch Grand Prix – but was unable to prevent the Red Bull star from overtaking in the late stages as he bemoaned a Mercedes strategy error that saw him tumble out of the podium places.
A breathless race saw Mercedes live up to the hype they have received this weekend. Ferrari were unable to challenge the home favourite, but both Hamilton and George Russell were flying on hard tyres and putting race leader Verstappen under intense pressure during the middle stages.
But everything was changed by a virtual safety car, followed by the real thing. Hamilton took the lead of the race as Verstappen pitted for soft tyres, but Russell also came in under the main safety car and so the seven-time world champion lost his buffer, and was duly overtaken by the Dutchman.
He then tumbled down the order with Russell and Charles Leclerc overtook him, meaning he did not even manage a spot on the podium. Hamilton was furious over team radio, bombarding his race engineer with a series of X-rated messages.
Verstappen got the good start he needed, though Hamilton came close to another Lap 1 crash after colliding with Fernando Alonso in Belgium last week. This time he touched wheels with Sainz around the first corner, but both kept their cars pointing in the right direction.
Kevin Magnussen came within a whisker of being the first man to crash out as he went into the gravel. He had some fairly hefty contact on his rear left with the barrier, but miraculously managed to continue having sustained very little damage to his Haas.
At the front, Verstappen quickly opened to gap to more than a second meaning Leclerc was unable to use DRS to catch him. And they were quickly dropping Sainz, who instead of moving forward was being reeled in by Hamilton behind him.
Perez was also having a tough time, being dropped by Hamilton and worrying about Russell behind him. It was an early indicator that those who predicted Mercedes to be strong in this race were correct, with only the leader Verstappen going quicker than the Silver Arrows in the early stages.
Sainz's struggled were compounded by a disastrous pit stop, which saw him stuck in the box for 12.7s with his mechanics not ready. And the team risked incurring the wrath of the stewards by leaving a stray wheel gun lying around, which Perez ran over as he completed his own change of rubber. The team was later slapped with a fine.
Impressive lap times from Alonso and Lando Norris on hard tyres very much opened the possibility for more teams to switch to one-stop strategies. It looked a more and more likely strategy for Mercedes to adopt, with Hamilton and Russell leading after staying out as the Red Bulls and Ferraris pitted.
As Verstappen moved past Russell, Hamilton was pitted after 29 laps to be fitted with the hards, clearly with the intension of going to the end of the race. It sparked an interesting strategy battle as Red Bull mulled over bringing the Dutchman in again to respond.
They decided against it but Hamilton was catching all the time on the hards that were working wonderfully for the Brit. It wasn't long before he and Russell had reeled in and overtaken Perez, with both closing the gap to Verstappen at the front.
The Dutchman had a 10 second gap to Leclerc but the two Silver Arrows further back were the ones marching on. Perez was pulled in for new hard tyres with 30 laps to go, with Red Bull keen to gather data on how well they worked for the Mexican so they could decide what would be the best plan for his team-mate.
In the end he was helped by a bizarre set of circumstances. Tsunoda stopped on the track and complained about his wheels, but was told by his mechanics to move again and come back to the pits. While in there, mechanics were delving around in the cockpit for 30 seconds and, after he came back out on to the track, he was told to stop again and pulled over next to the track.
A safety car was deployed and Verstappen grabbed the cheap pit stop he needed. Mercedes, knowing Hamilton and Russell would have been behind the Dutchman as a result, pulled in their two drivers for fresher rubber and they came out 12.6s behind the leader.
But the Mercedes man was still catching, and his cause was helped further by a safety car which allowed them to close. Red Bull pulled in Verstappen for new soft tyres, while Hamilton and Russell stayed out – giving them track position for the restart.
A full safety car came soon after, though, following which Verstappen – on his newer and softer rubber – flew past Hamilton. With many others also on softs by this point, the seven-time world champion tumbled out of the podium places, with Russell taking second and Leclerc completing the top three.
Full 2022 Dutch Grand Prix results:
- Max Verstappen - Red Bull
- George Russell - Mercedes
- Charles Leclerc - Ferrari
- Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes
- Sergio Perez - Red Bull
- Fernando Alonso - Alpine
- Lando Norris - McLaren
- Carlos Sainz - Ferrari (Five second penalty)
- Esteban Ocon - Alpine
- Lance Stroll - Aston Martin
- Pierre Gasly - AlphaTauri
- Alex Albon - Williams
- Mick Schumacher - Haas
- Sebastian Vettel - Aston Martin
- Kevin Magnussen - Haas
- Zhou Guanyu - Alfa Romeo
- Daniel Ricciardo - McLaren
- Nicholas Latifi - Williams
DNF: Valtteri Bottas, Yuki Tsunoda