Sixty-five thousand fans were on their feet and euphoric as they watched their home hero Max Verstappen fend off title rival Lewis Hamilton to snatch pole position for the returning Dutch Grand Prix.
Verstappen looked in control throughout qualifying and cruised through the opening two segments with what appeared to be plenty left in the tank. And he unleashed that pace when it mattered to take provisional pole – and improved again on his second run leading to an eruption in the grandstands.
Hamilton improved on his final lap – finding two tenths on Verstappen in the final sector – but it wasn’t quite enough as he leapfrogged Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas, 0.038s adrift from Dutchman Verstappen who took his sixth pole position in seven Grands Prix.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly took a superb fourth – equalling his starting spot in Azerbaijan – where incidentally he went on to finish on the podium in third with Charles Leclerc, who was quickest in Q1, the leading Ferrari in fifth.
Carlos Sainz recovered from a crash in FP3, with the team able to repair the car without the need to replace his gearbox – which would have incurred a grid penalty – to take sixth, while contender for driver of the day Antonio Giovinazzi equalled his best-ever qualifying performance with seventh.
Esteban Ocon outqualified Alpine team mate Fernando Alonso to take the lead in the head-to-head 7-6, though he pipped the double world champion by just 0.023s, while Daniel Ricciardo completed the top 10, finishing ahead of Lando Norris on a Saturday for the second successive Grand Prix weekend.
But the day belonged to Verstappen, who rode high on the immense support from his orange-clad army that have been in party mood from the moment the gates to Zandvoort opened on Saturday morning. Can he convert pole, on a track where overtaking could be difficult, into victory to finish the job? We’ll find out tomorrow.
Mercedes took a different path to the rest of the field as they sent their drivers out on the mediums, while everyone else went soft. It proved a good decision, as they coasted through to Q2. But it wasn’t so smooth for others.
Lando Norris scraped through in 15th, but that pushed Sergio Perez into the drop zone and out of qualifying having had his final run compromised when he got stuck in traffic in the pit lane.
He was joined in an early exit by Sebastian Vettel, who got baulked heavily by Nikita Mazepin in the final sector, which forced him to react quickly to avoid an accident and ended hopes of taking any further part.
Robert Kubica, standing in for Kimi Raikkonen who tested positive for Covid-19, was a respectable 18th – having had just one hour of practice to get acquainted with this new circuit, with the Haas duo of Mick Schumacher and Mazepin taking the bottom two places.
Ferrari did a tremendous job to repair Carlos Sainz’s car after his FP3 crash – and he shot through in second, two tenths of a second behind behind team mate Charles Leclerc with Verstappen third. Antonio Giovinazzi impressed to go a brilliant fourth, while Nicholas Latifi made it another Q2 on the bounce with the fifth fastest time, as the duo made the most of the track ramping up in terms of grip.
Knocked out: Perez, Vettel, Kubica, Schumacher, Mazepin
Mercedes headed out on a used set of softs – the tyres they used for a lap at the end of Q1 – but they still wouldn’t have expected to be around seven tenths of a second slower than Verstappen’s stellar lap on fresh boots.
Ricciardo put in a very tidy lap to go sixth, but his team mate Norris continued to struggle for pace and was in the drop zone with Russell, Stroll, Latifi and Tsunoda after the first runs were ticked off.
The session was then red-flagged when George Russell crashed at Turn 13 on his second run, the Williams driver admitting he “pushed too hard”. He managed to get going and retreat to the pits, but the damage was enough for his team to call time on his session.
Just a couple of minutes had passed when qualifying got back under way when the other Williams of Latifi crashed heavily at Turn 8 when he put a wheel on the dirt on entry. It took him some time to get out of the car, but fortunately he was able to climb out unaided. With less than two minutes to go, the F1 Race Director Michael Masi chose not to restart.
That meant Norris, Stroll and Tsunoda were robbed of the opportunity to complete their laps and try and progress into Q3. Verstappen ended up quickest, ahead of Leclerc, Gasly, Hamilton and Bottas.
Knocked out: Russell, Stroll, Norris, Latifi, Tsunoda
Verstappen set the pace right out of the blocks, clocking the fastest lap of the weekend, with Bottas slotting into second 0.3s off, with Hamilton just a fraction behind, as Gasly provided the sternest challenge from elsewhere.
By this point, the crowd had built to fever pitch and were up on their feet cheering each car that went by, Verstappen getting the loudest support, with music blaring out to maintain the festival atmosphere that has been ever-present since the weekend kicked off on Thursday.
Next time around, Verstappen went even quicker, with Hamilton’s strong final sector enough to lift him one place to second, but just off pole. Gasly maintained fourth, while Giovinazzi improved to go one place higher, behind the Ferrari duo and ahead of the Alpine pair.
The Dutch Grand Prix kicks off at 15:00 local time, which is 14:00 GMT. All eyes will be on home favourite Verstappen, but title rival Hamilton will hope he can spoil the party?