Verstappen delights with victory at Dutch Grand Prix

Max Verstappen has moved back to the head of the drivers’ standings, after winning the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort over title rival Lewis Hamilton, sending his home fans into ecstasy, as the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas completed the podium.

In the first Dutch Grand Prix since 1985, Verstappen led away from pole, keeping Hamilton at bay throughout the 72-lap encounter around the sweeping Zandvoort track, to bring home his seventh win of the season, as Hamilton had to settle for second, the seven-time champion stopping with two laps to go for softs.

Bottas was a comfortable third, despite his own late stop for soft tyres, with Bottas appearing to then ignore team orders not to attempt to take the fastest lap bonus point away from Hamilton – only for Hamilton to claim it anyway on the final lap.

Bottas led home the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly, who drove a brilliant race to take fourth, ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.

Fernando Alonso was sixth for Alpine, having passed the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz on the last lap. Sainz was ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who recovered well from his pit lane start and an early flat spot in the race to take P8, with the second Alpine and of Esteban Ocon and the McLaren of Lando Norris – who’d been allowed past his 11th placed team mate Daniel Ricciardo earlier in the race – rounding out the top 10.

Lance Stroll was 12th, ahead of Aston Martin team mate Sebastian Vettel, then the Alfa Romeo pairing of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen replacement Robert Kubica in P14 and P15, with Nicholas Latifi taking 16th – as George Russell was classified 17th, ahead of Mick Schumacher, with Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin retiring.

But the Dutch fans only had eyes for one driver, greeting Verstappen’s win with jubilation, as he moved three points clear of Hamilton in the standings.

There was almost a football stadium atmosphere at Zandvoort as the expectant Dutch crowd, orange flares blazing, watched their man Max Verstappen take up his spot on pole position. And their hero achieved his first goal of the afternoon with a brilliant start, decisively sweeping in front of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton starting alongside him into to Turn 1.

Verstappen leads as Hamilton chases his shadow.

Despite there having been six red flags in the practice and qualifying sessions leading up to the race, it was something of a surprise to see the pack all make it through the first lap without major incident. The only real drama centred around Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, who narrowly avoided contact with Williams’ George Russell into Turn 2 before using his Indy 500 experience to swoop through the banked Turn 3 on the high line, allowing Alonso to climb from his P9 grid slot to P7.

After his excellent qualifying, meanwhile, Antonio Giovinazzi went the other way on Lap 1, dropping from P7 to P10 after getting squeezed by Carlos Sainz and then appearing to make light contact with Alonso as the Spaniard forced his way past the Alfa Romeo.

Up at the front, though, Verstappen was quickly into his stride, stretching his advantage to around 3s over Hamilton by Lap 10, Hamilton himself with 5s between himself and team mate Bottas. In the AlphaTauri, Pierre Gasly was comfortably holding fourth from the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sainz, but had dropped over 10s behind Bottas – although Gasly was still usefully positioned to give Mercedes a potential strategic headache to help out Verstappen in the Red Bull sister team.

Sergio Perez had been crestfallen on Saturday to not make it out of Q1. But after fitting a new power unit and starting from the pit lane, Perez’s weekend took another hit when he flat-spotted his hard tyres attacking Nikita Mazepin early on, forcing Perez to pit for mediums on Lap 9 and dropping him back to P19 – ahead only of the Haas of Mick Schumacher, who’d pitted on lap 4.

Nicholas Latifi was another who’d started from the pit lane after a change to his gearbox and front wing after his qualifying crash – with Latifi showing Perez how to pass Mazepin with a beautiful move around the outside of the Haas at Turn 1 on Lap 13.

Lewis Hamilton was the first of the leaders to pit on Lap 20, putting on new medium tyres. But it wasn’t the smoothest stop from Mercedes, Hamilton stationary for 3.6s. Verstappen pitted from the lead a lap later, Red Bull servicing him in 2.7s, with Verstappen emerging 2s up the road from Hamilton in P2, as Bottas took over the lead.

So hot had the pace of Verstappen and Hamilton been that they were on the yet-to-stop Bottas’ gearbox by Lap 30 – with Verstappen instructed by race engineer that passing the Finn would be “critical” to securing victory, as Bottas was told to defend.

Sergio Perez recovered well from a pit lane start to score some points.

Verstappen was right on the Finn through the banked Turn 14 at the end of Lap 30, though, and DRSed his way easily past Bottas into Turn 1 to retake the race lead. But Bottas having held Verstappen up had allowed Hamilton to close up too, with Bottas quickly moving aside to release his team mate to get after the Dutchman – as Bottas pitted for mediums a lap later, rejoining in third.

With the halfway point reached on Lap 36 of 72, and with all of the field bar Lando Norris and Robert Kubica – replacing Kimi Raikkonen this weekend after the Finn contracted Covid-19 – having pitted, the order was: Verstappen from Hamilton, who was 22s clear of Bottas, then Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Norris, the recovering Perez in P8, with the Alpine duo of Alonso and Esteban Ocon rounding out the top 10.

There was drama a lap later, meanwhile, as Sebastian Vettel, attacking the Alfa Romeo of Kubica, spun at Turn 3, almost getting collected by the Mercedes of Bottas and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda. Verstappen, meanwhile, was given a hurry up on Lap 38, with Red Bull and Mercedes seemingly contemplating two-stopping Verstappen and Hamilton.

Mercedes duly brought Hamilton in a lap later, putting Hamilton on his one available set of used mediums, with Hamilton able to exit back into his P2. But Verstappen had been setting a fierce pace up at the front, stopping for hards a lap later and retaining his lead comfortably – with Hamilton questioning Mercedes’ strategy to go with the mediums with 33 laps of the race left to go.

Verstappen and Hamilton now appeared to be in a straight fight to the race end. And despite Hamilton repeatedly complaining about the state of his tyres, with 15 laps of the race to go, he had closed up to within 1.8s of Verstappen’s rear wing – Hamilton scenting blood, despite Mercedes telling the seven-time champion that slackening his pace, cooling his tyres and settling for second and fastest lap might be the way to go.

With 10 laps to go, the gap had swelled back to around 4s – with Hamilton appearing to accept his fate and concede victory to Verstappen. There was intrigue to come, though, as Bottas was brought in for a pit stop on Lap 67, but told not to attempt to go for fastest lap on his soft tyres.

Bottas appeared to ignore that piece of advice, duly claiming it despite protestations from Mercedes Chief Strategist James Vowles. However, Hamilton would then render Bottas’ dissention moot as he stopped for softs on Lap 70, and set the fastest lap himself on the final tour.

That put him 20s behind Verstappen as the Dutchman swept over the line to take his seventh win of the season – with the Dutch crowd making no attempt to contain their enthusiasm for the result as they celebrated the first ever home victory in F1 for a Dutch driver on Dutch soil.

Hamilton pits late on to secure the fastest lap.

As Hamilton and Bottas took P2 and P3, another star performance was that of Pierre Gasly, who held onto the fourth place he’d started in, holding off the Ferrari of Leclerc. Behind, meanwhile, the wily Fernando Alonso nabbed sixth on the final tour off his compatriot Carlos Sainz, who took seventh.

Sergio Perez had the most eventful afternoon of any driver, climbing from P19 at one stage to finish P8 in a decent recovery drive that earned him Driver of the Day, as he finished ahead of Ocon and Norris.

Ricciardo took 11th, having played the team game at McLaren by letting Norris – who’d run a 42-lap stint on the mediums – through earlier on. The Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel were line astern in 12th and 13th after a disappointing day for the team in green – while Alfa Romeo will have been disappointed too to see Antonio Giovinazzi finish 14th after starting seventh, the Italian having suffered a puncture midway through the race.

Kubica and Latifi were P15 and P16, with George Russell P17 despite actually retiring before the race end, but doing enough to be classified ahead of Schumacher – as Mazepin and Tsunoda also retired.

So, it was double joy for Verstappen, as he held aloft the winner’s trophy on the podium in front of a sea of orange – with the Dutchman having also moved to the head of the drivers’ standings by three points over Hamilton.

The final part of this triple header is coming up next week, as Formula 1 heads from one iconic venue to another: Monza, for the 2021 Italian Grand Prix on September 10-12. It was AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly who claimed a fairytale victory this year. But who will triumph in 2021, as the F1 Sprint format returns?

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