Lewis Hamilton has apologised for his X-rated rant at his Mercedes team towards the end of Sunday's dramatic Dutch Grand Prix as he saw his best chance of victory this season slip away from him. However, the seven-times world champion said he would never apologise for showing “passion”.
In a blistering attack over team radio, Hamilton had accused his team of “f-----g sc---ing” him by leaving him out on medium tyres during a late safety car period when other drivers, including the eventual race winner, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, switched to softs.
The 37 year-old was a sitting duck when the race restarted with 12 laps remaining, dropping from first place to fourth by the finish as first Verstappen, and then his team-mate George Russell, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, all passed him.
“That was the biggest f----up,” Hamilton exploded over the radio. “I can’t believe you guys f------ sc---ed me. I can’t tell you how p----d I am.”
Mercedes later took responsibility for the strategy call, team principal Toto Wolff saying Hamilton was “right to be angry”. And Hamilton, while expressing regret for his rant and his choice of language, said he did not want to apologise for showing passion.
“It has been such a rollercoaster ride this year,” he said. “It was such a good race. The car was feeling better than it has all year long.
“I was thinking ‘Wow, we could be fighting for a win here, maybe a one-two.’ And then the safety cars came through and my fr-----g emotions were all over the place. I knew at that moment I had lost it because everyone was on the soft tyre and there was no way I was going to hold them behind me.”
He added: “I don’t want to apologise for my passion, because that is just how I am made and I don’t always get it right. I am sorry to my team for what I said because it was made in the heat of the moment.”
Horner 'surprised' at Mercedes call
This time, the race did not have nearly as much riding on it. In Abu Dhabi last year, when Mercedes chose not to pit Hamilton behind a late safety car, leaving him like a sitting duck to be gobbled up by big, bad Verstappen on fresh rubber on the last lap, there was a championship at stake.
The post-race taunting from Red Bull over their strategy call would prove excruciating, not least because Mercedes felt – rightly – that they had made the correct call and that it was the misguided application of the safety-car rules by race director Michael Masi which cost Hamilton victory. There was no championship at stake on Sunday. Mercedes are so far off the pace in this year’s title race they might as well be driving on the moon.
But the post-race taunting from Red Bull on Sunday, the “You would have thought they’d have learnt from Abu Dhabi” comments, would still have hurt. Mostly because they know this time their rivals were right. The Mercedes decision not to pit Hamilton for soft tyres after Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas broke down on the pit straight with 16 laps to go probably did not cost him the win. Verstappen would surely have got that anyway, with a faster car in a straight line and with track position. But it certainly cost him any chance of fighting for it.
When the safety car was withdrawn with 12 laps remaining, Verstappen breezed past Hamilton as if he was standing still. As did, in quick succession, Hamilton’s teammate George Russell, who had stopped for soft tyres, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Hamilton was apoplectic, swearing at his pitwall over the radio.
Mercedes could have made other calls which might have given Hamilton more of a chance. “I was quite surprised that they didn’t leave George out strategically as a rear gunner for Lewis,” mused Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “When he pitted, it gave a straight fight between Max and Lewis with a tyre offset.”
What is done is done. And the weekend as a whole was an encouraging one for Mercedes after their shocker in Spa. But, ultimately, it had the same result. Verstappen marches on. The Dutchman’s victory stretched his lead in this year’s title race to a virtually impregnable 109 points with only seven races remaining.
The race as a whole was a slow burner, taking a while to explode into life. There was a moment of drama at the start. Hamilton, starting fourth, making contact with Carlos Sainz trying to pass the Ferrari up the inside of Turn 1. But unlike at Spa last weekend, when Hamilton collided with the Alpine of Fernando Alonso on the opening lap and was forced to retire, this time he survived the incident. In fact, none of the top seven cars switched position and with overtaking at Zandvoort, with its tight, twisty layout, at a premium, the race soon settled into a rhythm.
The second half of the race proved far more dramatic. Mercedes, with excellent race pace, were clearly trying for a one-stopper, and were having some joy on the hard tyres, slowly reeling Verstappen in. But a strange sequence of events involving Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri – Red Bull’s sister team – flipped the race on its head.
First the Japanese driver stopped on track complaining that a wheel was loose. Then he came into the pits and for a while the team played around with his seatbelt, which he had loosened. He was then sent on his way again, only to retire on his out-lap. That brought out a virtual safety car, changing the complexion of the race entirely.
Verstappen switched to hard tyres, for what he thought would be his final stop, and Hamilton to mediums. The Mercedes driver once again set off in pursuit of his rival, only for the safety car to be deployed six laps later following Bottas’s failure.
Mercedes chose to split their strategy, with Russell asking to switch to softs. Hamilton stayed out, his team prioritising track position. Horner admitted he was relieved they did that, adding it was a bit of a leap of faith pitting his man. “You’ve got your home driver, leading in front of 105,000 people, and you decide to pit him for the soft tyres and concede track position behind two Mercedes,” he said.
Ultimately, though, he said he preferred “to attack than try to hang on at the front”. “My biggest concern was it would be two against one,” Horner said. “But when George seemed to pit himself, that then freed up a one-on-one fight with Max versus Lewis.”
It proved no contest, as it has for much of the year.
'We took a risk and it didn't work out'
"I can't believe you guys," Hamilton said over the radio after the race. "I can't tell you how pissed I am right now."
His race engineer Pete Bonnington replied: "Copy, Lewis, we will chat afterwards.
"Sorry about that, Lewis, it was looking good, but we will sit down and review the decisions we made."
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff added: "Lewis, Sorry it didn't work out. We took a risk and it didn’t work out but let's discuss between us in the office."
Verstappen’s 10th win of the season stretched the Dutchman’s lead at the top of the drivers’ championship to 109 points over Leclerc with seven races of the season remaining. There are a maximum of 191 possible points up for grabs.
The next race takes place at Monza in Italy this weekend before a run of six flyaways, starting in Singapore at the end of the month.