How Mercedes drivers’ radio calls swung the Dutch GP · RaceFans

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell reacted in completely different ways in the critical moments which swung the outcome of the Dutch Grand Prix.

The pair moved into the lead when the Safety Car was deployed with 16 laps to go and Red Bull responded by bringing Max Verstappen in from the front of the field to fit soft tyres to his car. That left the Mercedes pair leading, both on the medium tyres.

But while Hamilton was content to remain in the lead of the race on his older rubber, Russell behind him immediately questioned whether they should switch to the soft tyres. After a brief debate, Russell won his team over, and changed tyres.

Hamilton was crestfallen when he saw what was unfolding. He immediately realised his chance of holding onto the lead would be seriously compromised without Russell’s car behind him on the same rubber.

Sure enough, once the race restarted Verstappen shot past Hamilton and went on to win, while Russell picked off his team mate on his way to second. Here’s how it unfolded.

Hamilton and Russell’s radio messages from the Safety Car period

Mercedes were alert to the possibility of the Safety Car being deployed as soon as Valtteri Bottas brought his Alfa Romeo to a stop on the pit straight. With little room to move it out of the way, a Safety Car looked inevitable.

Lap: 55/72
Bonnington Yellow, yellow. Car stopped end of the straight. Musconi You’re not in your window. You’re not in your window.
Musconi So yellow, yellow on the main straight. Valtteri stopped at turn one, he is on the right hand side.

Hamilton’s thoughts immediately turned to Verstappen ahead of him. Knowing the Red Bull driver was on the hard tyre compound, Hamilton suspected he might pit and avoid being left vulnerable at a rolling restart on a hard tyre compound. Sure enough, Red Bull brought Verstappen in for a set of softs.

In contrast, even before Verstappen was called in, Russell immediately questioned the team’s decision to stay on the medium tyre compound. He told them he was happy to risk switching to the soft tyres if it meant losing a position to the next car in the queue, Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari.

Curiously, at this point Mercedes told him they planned to split the responses between the two drivers but that Hamilton would be called in. This was either a mistake or the team swiftly decided against it:

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Lap: 56/72
Bonnington Safety Car, Safety Car, keep the delta positive. So go strat mode one. Musconi Safety car. Safety car. Keep that delta positive. You’re staying out.
Hamilton Has he got Safety Car window? Russell Are you sure? You don’t want to throw the soft on?
Bonnington So Lewis, Verstappen in the pit lane so we’re staying out. Stay out, stay out. Musconi You’re staying out.
Bonnington So it’ll be close with Verstappen on exit. So delta positive. Russell What happens if we put the soft on? Where do we fall?
Hamilton What tyre’s he on? Musconi Be on standby. Be on standby.
Bonnington So Verstappen on the soft tyre, he’s currently behind George. Russell If it’s only Leclerc, I’m happy to box.
Hamilton How many laps? Musconi So we are splitting, you’re staying out. Delta. Delta. So stay close to your delta.
Bonnington We’ve got 15 to go. Russell Copy I’m staying out?
Hamilton Understood. Musconi Staying out. Staying out.
Musconi Look, Verstappen on exit! Verstappen on exit. Stay tight. Verstappen stopped for the soft. So it is 16 laps to go. So work tyres and brakes. So Leclerc has also stopped, I imagine it will be soft.

Leclerc also pitted. Russell was by now more concerned about his tyres, which were the same age as Hamilton’s, and saw he could rejoin the track ahead of the Ferrari if he pitted. With the cars filtering through the pit lane to avoid the recovery scene at turn one, he urged his team to let him stop, and this time they agreed.

As they passed through the pits, Hamilton saw the tyres waiting for his team mate and was immediately concerned. He had expected Mercedes to leave Russell behind him, giving him some protection from Verstappen at the restart, but that vital buffer was now gone.

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Lap: 57/72
Bonnington So Safety Car through the pit lane. Safety Car through the pit lane. Musconi So Safety Car will come through the pit lane. So you’re following the safety car through the pit lane, you’re not stopping. So stay in the fast lane.
Hamilton It’s in. Russell Why not? I’m losing the tyre. I’m coming in, put the soft on.
Bonnington So just remember staying in the fast lane. Just stay in the fast lane, going through. Musconi Okay. So build a gap. Build a gap. Stop! Stop! Stop! Box, box, box, box. [Unclear] only George is stopping. Stop on your marks.
Hamilton Why did you stop George? Musconi Clear. You’re clear. So we are ahead of Leclerc. Good job there.
Bonnington I don’t know, Lewis, I’ll let you know. Musconi So you can push to catch the Safety Car.
Hamilton That was a mistake, mate. He had track position. We had a buffer between us, mate. Now we don’t have that. Russell Yeah, sorry, yeah, catching the Safety Car.
Bonnington Copy that Lewis. Musconi So you can do lots more with the front brakes.
Musconi So it looks like the car has been removed. There’ll be lots of cars that are one lap down. So it’ll be another couple of laps at least. So it’ll be Lewis on nine-lap-old medium, Verstappen, yourself and Leclerc on soft.

Speaking after the race, Hamilton said he realised he was in trouble as soon as he saw Russell was about to pit. “When [the Safety Car] came out I just followed the direction, I didn’t think anyone was going to stop,” he explained.

“When I pulled past my pit box I saw the soft tyres were out and I saw it was happening into George. In that moment, I was like, hold on a second? So kind of then my hope started to fade a little bit.”

However Russell said the team made the best gamble available to them by splitting their drivers’ strategies. “As a team it was an incredibly difficult decision because had we both pitted, we would have conceded the position to Max,” he said. “Had we both stayed out, we probably both would have lost out to Max as well.

“So the best chance we as a team had of victory was splitting the cars, one to stay ahead of Max, one to stay behind and see what happened. If you could have just got those tyres restarted, it could have been different but it was always going to be very, very challenging for him.”

Once race control moved the lapped cars out of the way the race was ready to restart, with Hamilton leading on medium tyres ahead of Verstappen, Russell and Leclerc on softs.

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Lap: 58/72
Bonnington So we’ll stay out. Using main straight. So do not enter pit lane. Stay on the main straight. Musconi So safety car will stay on track. So you’re staying out. Staying out. So we’re staying out. Staying out. So we’re now clear at sector one and two. They’ll properly let the lapped cars through this lap.
Bonnington So you’re doing a good job Lewis. Russell Laps remaining?
Hamilton Is he on a used soft? Musconi So end of this lap it will be 13 remaining, 13.
Bonnington Yes, it will be used. Doing a good job with those tyre temps. Just keep on top of them as always. So lap cars now overtaking. So it will be seven in total. Already had one, just stay on the racing line, let them past, no weaving. Musconi So lapped cars may now overtake. There’s quite a lot. So just stay on the racing line. There’s seven cars that cars that need to comes through. Magnussen coming through then Zhou will be the next one, he is behind Leclerc. So Zhou now the car behind you. Next call will be Ricciardo. Still more cars coming through.

Hamilton warned his team it wouldn’t be easy to keep his lead. Once the race resumed, Verstappen overtook him before turn one. Russell and Leclerc followed within the next few laps.

Russell asked his team if he could use ‘strat nine’ – a setting which optimises the car for higher performance – for the restart. He was told he couldn’t due to concerns over temperatures. When the race did restart Hamilton was reminded to select ‘strat five’. He appears to have done this too late, as he admitted afterwards, which likely also helped Verstappen pass him.

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Lap: 59/72
Hamilton It’ll be hard to keep that car behind me now. Russell After Ricciardo?
Bonnington Yeah copy Lewis but let’s give it everything. Russell Can I go strat nine for the start? For the restart?
Hamilton I can’t get these front temperatures up. Musconi We’re checking. Negative. We don’t have margin on temps.
Bonnington Okay so the Safety Car is going to be in this lap. So expect the lights to go out around turn 11. Musconi So probably should be now the end of the lapped cars. Still seeing the brakes split on the front. So you can use push and hold them. So Safety Car in this lap. Try to break up those tyres. So it’ll be 12 racing laps, 12.

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(L to R): George Russell, Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit Zandvoort, 2022
Russell swept past his team mate after the restart

2022 Dutch Grand Prix

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