Mercedes’ attempt at using a two-stopping Lewis Hamilton and a one-stopping Valtteri Bottas to ‘pincer’ Max Verstappen’s faster Red Bull in the Dutch Grand Prix was based around the calculated difficulty of overtaking around the tight Zandvoort track. According to team simulations, a lap time advantage of around 1.8sec would be needed in order to accomplish an on-track pass, which makes it the second-most difficult – after Monaco – on the calendar.
Verstappen took off from pole and immediately established an undercut cushion over the following Hamilton – i.e. his gap was big enough that he could pit a lap after Hamilton and still emerge ahead. Both were setting a hard enough pace to make it clear they were intending to two-stop. Bottas in third ran a gentler pace, with the intention of one-stopping. This was a deliberate split strategy from Mercedes, the idea being to use Bottas to slow Verstappen after the Red Bull had pitted and rejoined behind the yet-to-stop Bottas, allowing Hamilton to catch up, creating a possible undercut chance up to the second stops. Red Bull was unable to counter it strategically, as Sergio Pérez had failed to make it out of Q1 and would be starting from the pitlane.
After Verstappen and Hamilton rejoined from their first stops on their fresh medium tyres, it took eight laps for them to catch Bottas on softs, which by then were over 30 laps old. The degradation rate of the soft was calculated by Pirelli to be 0.1sec per lap, so theoretically Bottas was lapping around 3sec off a new-tyred time. A new medium was around 0.7sec slower than a new soft but the degradation was much lower. Theoretically, Verstappen and Hamilton on their much newer mediums should have been around 1.5sec faster than Bottas – which, again theoretically, wouldn’t be enough for Verstappen to overtake.