Max Verstappen said he was surprised by the threat Mercedes posed to his lead in the Dutch Grand Prix as he had to fight for his fourth victory in a row.
The championship leader looked in control on soft tires after pulling away from Charles Leclerc in the opening part of the race, but then the Mercedes pair run longer having started on mediums and took the lead. With Lewis Hamilton and George Russell one-stopping, a switch to hard tires had both starting to close in at impressive pace and emerge as the main challenger to Verstappen before a Virtual Safety Car period impacted strategies.
“I was just surprised that they were that quick on the harder compounds,” Verstappen said. “I have to say these tires are very stiff — the C1, C2 (compound). And they just didn’t seem to really switch on for us as good as they did for them.
“That’s I think what made it a little bit more complicated for us today. Once we were able to switch back to the soft, we could counter it. But yeah, I expected probably them to be a little bit slower. And I expected Ferrari to be a little bit faster.”
Yuki Tsunoda stopped on track to bring out a VSC that required Verstappen to switch to hard tires and retain the lead, but Mercedes responded with a move to mediums that kept both cars in the game. However, Valtteri Bottas then came to a stop on track, bringing out a safety car that reset the field.
“It was just difficult. I think I gave my opinions about what I wanted with tires. I said, ‘Don’t use the hard tire’ but we had to, because of the VSC. It came out a bit unfortunate. And then we went out and we were clearly lacking a little bit of pace on that hard compared to the Mercedes cars on the medium. I think the gap was still big enough to manage it to the end, but they would have definitely gotten a lot closer than I think the 11-and-a-half seconds it was at the time.
“Then the safety car came out and then there’s no way that you can stay out on a hard tire. So we had to box, but I didn’t request it. You have to trust your team as well to make the right calls and they did. So they boxed me. We put a soft tire on and of course, then we dropped back. But then George also pitted for softs and we were back into P2.
“Surprisingly, we had a really good restart and then with the extra top speed we have over Mercedes, I could get a run into Turn 1.”