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F1 News: Horner says Mercedes gave Max Verstappen “free run” at Lewis Hamilton

Christian Horner was surprised by Mercedes’ strategy.

In addition to Ferrari’s typical strategic mishap at the Dutch GP, the Silver Arrows of Mercedes committed a significant blunder in the final phase of the race that left Lewis Hamilton exposed.

Before the issues with Tsunoda’s AT03, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s diverging strategies were building up to a highly nuanced and unpredictable conclusion to the race in Zandvoort.

The first Virtual Safety Car played perfectly into Red Bull’s hands, but the Mercedes pairing was 1-2 after Max Verstappen decided to stop under the safety car.

With Verstappen in third behind the two Mercedes (who initially stayed out), it seemed that the German squad would keep both drivers on track together, with George Russell potentially acting as a rear gunner for Lewis Hamilton.

It seems unlikely Russell would have kept Verstappen behind indefinitely, but Hamilton’s chances of securing a podium or even a victory would have been boosted if his teammate stayed out.

However, Russell decided to enter the pits for stops, giving Verstappen track position and leaving Hamilton helplessly, as the 7-time World Champion eventually dropped outside the podium.

Christian Horner gave a similar analysis, expressing his surprise at the Mercedes strategy in his interview with Sky F1 post-race:

“My understanding was they were going to leave them both out, which would have left them both pretty exposed. 

“But then I thought they’d keep George out as sort of a rear gunner to try and hold Max back.

“But then when they pitted George, it gave Max a free run at Lewis, and obviously there was a tyre offset, and Max got the job done pretty quickly.”