‘I’d rather take the risk to win’ says Wolff as he defends Mercedes’ Safety Car strategy in Zandvoort
Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff has defended his team’s decision to keep Lewis Hamilton on used medium tyres at the end of the Dutch Grand Prix, which saw Hamilton drop from the lead to P4 as George Russell finished second.
The Silver Arrows’ pace on hard tyres was enough for them to cut into Max Verstappen’s lead midway through the race, and it seemed that a one-stop strategy from Mercedes could have genuinely threatened the Dutchman’s bid for victory. However, when the VSC emerged late on in the race – followed by a Safety Car for Valtteri Bottas’s retirement – Mercedes kept Hamilton out in the lead, prioritising track position, while Verstappen chose to switch to softs for the restart.
Hamilton ended up being passed not only by Verstappen, but by soft-shod team mate Russell and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who had also pitted under the Safety Car. And while the seven-time champion may have raged on the radio after losing the chance to take his first win of 2022, Wolff said he didn’t mind the comments...
“First of all, we are the trash bin for the driver! It’s highly emotional, you are that close, racing for the win and then you are being eaten up. So it’s clear that every emotion comes out and as a driver you are in the cockpit, you are alone, you don’t see what’s happening,” explained Wolff.
“We discussed in the moment, are we taking risks for the race win? Yes, we’re taking risks. And he had a tyre that was five laps old, the medium – holding position was the right thing to do. At the end it didn’t work out for him but I’d rather take the risk to win the race for Lewis rather than finish second and third.”
Wolff reasoned that Mercedes might have been “screwed” regardless of the call they made.
“First of all, Lewis was ahead, so you always have a bit of a problem with the call. You can do two things: you can either pit Lewis, lose track position against Verstappen or leave George out – screwed; you can pit both – screwed. So it was worth taking the risk.
“I think the Red Bull has so much straight-line speed that [with everyone] on the same tyre out there, you’re not winning.”
Wolff did see positives in Mercedes’ performance in the Netherlands, particularly as Hamilton qualified fourth and Russell sixth. But both drivers were denied a chance to improve at the end of qualifying after Sergio Perez’s spin in Q3.
“I think that’s the positives, and this is what I just discussed with Lewis, there’s so much more positives to take. Second and fourth, it’s annoying, but we had a good race car here. That’s the most important, but you have to take risks as well. And we are.”
Wolff also refuted a suggestion that rules around pitting under a Virtual Safety Car or Safety Car should be changed, following Yuki Tsunoda’s and Bottas’s stoppages.
“No, I think we have those rules – sometimes it works for you, sometimes it doesn’t work for you. As long as we adhere to the rules, this is motor racing, and the referee can get it wrong. But today I think the decisions from the Race Control were absolutely spot on, it’s just that a car caused a Safety Car, that car shouldn’t have been there anymore.”
Looking ahead to Monza, which hosts the 2022 Italian Grand Prix on September 9-11, Wolff said: “I think here [Zandvoort] was a good track for us. Not sure we’ll have such successful weekends in terms of car pace going forwards but there’s a lot to understand and a lot to learn.”
The Team Principal added that Mercedes are “absolutely” in with a chance of winning a race before the end of the season.
“We’re going to try the maximum. We are a bit more close today, and it’s good fun in any case.”