Defending champion, Max Verstappen, continued where he and Red Bull left-off from last week win in Belgium by taking victory ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in a topsy-turvy Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on Sunday.
In front of a sell-out 100 000+ partisan crowd, Verstappen took a step closer to his second title after what threatened to become a processional race took an unexpected turn on lap 45 when the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda came to a stop for an apparent tyre misfit directly after the Japanese’s pit-stop.
At the time, pole-sitter Verstappen, who out-dragged Leclerc and his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz heading into the turn one Tarzan corner, had been leading by close-on ten seconds as the Virtual Safety Car boards emerged in order for the safe removal of the AlphaTauri.
Bizarrely, Tsunoda managed to limp back to pits with no apparent hint of a poorly fitted wheel or mechanical issues in spite of insisting there being a problem. He ultimately headed back-out onto the track before being told to stop after reporting problems at the rear.
The mass exodus from the track to the pit-lane, which coincided with the second round of stops, saw Verstappen retain his lead, but on the more durable yet slower hard tyres in order to avoid any further visits to the pits – his stop on lap 49 being 23 laps away from the chequered flag.
At the same time, Mercedes opted to double stack Russell and teammate Lewis Hamilton, but in a reversal from Verstappen, on the faster medium tyres so as to provide the ideal split between pace and durability should no other factors tip the scale in the Dutchman and Red Bull’s favour.
Despite being 12.5 seconds down on Verstappen and not pleased with the Virtual Safety Car, the call by Mercedes for Hamilton to push saw the seven-times world champion decrease the Red Bull’s lead to just under 11 seconds when the pendulum swung in Red Bull’s favour on lap 55 when the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas stopped on the main-straight with suspected engine failure.
This led to the deployment of the full safety car and pit-stops for Verstappen and fourth-placed Leclerc, who both elected for the faster soft tyre with less than 20 laps to go.
A move that elicited questioning from the media and fans in the case of Verstappen, Hamilton stayed out while teammate Russell opted for softs at the last moment.
The supposed “wrong” decision by Red Bull, Ferrari and Russell proved proved to be the opposite as Verstappen rounded Hamilton up with ease at the restart heading into Tarzan on lap 61, with Russell doing the same three laps after almost running into the back of his teammate in front of the pits.
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His compatriot now up to second, a barrage of expletives cracked over Hamilton’s team radio with the Brit berating the time for the “biggest f***k up” of the strategy as Leclerc made little work of the Mercedes five laps later.
“Sorry it didn’t work out. We did what we discussed in the morning. We took the risk, it didn’t work out, but let’s discuss between us in the office,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff was heard saying over the radio to Hamilton on the cool-down lap back to the pits.
A calmer Hamilton later apologised to the team for the outburst, saying via the team radio, “To all the mechanics, fantastic job today. Those are the best pit stops we’ve had all year, so thank you for the continued efforts”.
The drama that befell the top-four carried over to the rest of the points paying positions where Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, crossed the line sixth, but got promoted to fifth after a horror race for Sainz that started with a slow pit-stop on lap 18 thanks to a misplaced rear tyre, followed by an unsafe release into the path of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso during the safety car period.
This saw the Spaniard being slapped with a five-second penalty that dropped him to eighth behind Perez, Alonso and former McLaren teammate, Lando Norris. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll made-up of the rest of the top ten.
“It was a mess, the whole race in trouble, first with the confusing pit stop that we had and the yellow flag in which I saved myself by very small margins, and then the unsafe release,” Sainz told f1.com after the race.
“That wasn’t an unsafe release, I was launched into the pit lane correctly but the problem is that I had to brake to not take a McLaren guy out of his life. Because I took avoiding action, they give you a penalty – I find this very frustrating and I’m going to speak with the FIA now because I don’t understand it”.
Outside the points came AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, the Williams of Alex Albon, Haas’ Mick Schumacher and the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel, who also copped a five-second penalty for not getting out of the way of Hamilton and Perez after a pit-stop on lap 37 that almost saw the Mexican passing the Brit at the turn three banked Hugenholtz corner.
Behind Vettel came the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen, who came unstuck and nearly into the barrier on lap 2 while battling Albon, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi.
His lead in the championship now over 100 points with Leclerc moving back into second at the expense of Perez, Verstappen appears odds on favourite to potentially clinch the title next week as the championship finishes its stay in Europe with the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
Results (Top 10)
- Max Verstappen – Red Bull
- George Russell – Mercedes: +4.071 sec
- Charles Leclerc – Ferrari: +10.929 sec
- Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes: +13.016 sec
- Sergio Perez – Red Bull: +18.168 sec
- Fernando Alonso – Alpine: +18.754 sec
- Landi Norris – McLaren: +19.306 sec
- Carlos Sainz – Ferrari: +20.916 sec
- Esteban Ocon – Alpine: +21.117 sec
- Lance Stroll – Aston Martin: +22.459 sec
- Max Verstappen – 310 pts
- Charles Leclerc – 201 pts
- Sergio Perez – 201 pts
- George Russell – 188 pts
- Carlos Sainz – 175 pts
- Lewis Hamilton – 158 pts
- Lando Norris – 82 pts
- Esteban Ocon – 66 pts
- Fernando Alonso – 59 pts
- Valtteri Bottas – 46 pts
- Red Bull – 511 pts
- Ferrari – 376 pts
- Mercedes – 346 pts
- Alpine – 125 pts
- McLaren – 101 pts
- Alfa Romeo – 51 pts
- Haas – 34 pts
- AlphaTauri – 29 pts
- Aston Martin – 25 pts
- Williams – 4 pts