With its sights, sounds and spectacle, the Dutch Grand Prix is not for the faint-hearted. The noise levels alone generated by the enthusiastic crowd bouncing to the relentless beat of techno music are almost debilitating. Yet it was nothing compared to the festive roar that echoed through the dunes of Zandvoort when Max Verstappen claimed pole. After a breathless finale, it was an exhalation as much relief as ecstasy.
With their orange capes billowing in the wind on this circuit perched on the edge of the North Sea, these fans had come to celebrate and pay tribute to the world champion during his first meeting at home since winning the title . One went too far when a flare was launched onto the track, but for the majority the excitement and anticipation was palpable. However, they surely did not expect such a fierce fight for the first place.
Red Bull’s Verstappen held the lead but by the tiniest of margins and only after being pushed to the limit by Ferrari Charles Leclerc. The Dutchman must have pulled it all out and put in a wonderful lap, especially after being off the pace in practice on Friday.
“Unbelievable, especially after yesterday we had a tough day,” he said. “The whole team turned around and today we had a fast car again. It was very tight but the pole lap was crazy.
In his first run in Q3, Verstappen pushed to the limit, to the limit thanks to Hugenholtz’s bank. He set a time of 1min 10.515sec but Leclerc followed him and found even more. Particularly strong in the first third, he took the lead for six hundredths of a second.
It was a huge lap to meet Verstappen’s effort, but with the ever-changing track the final races were crucial and incredibly tense. The circuit is only 2.6 miles long, narrow and unforgiving. The turns are repeated relentlessly, leaving no room for error, and at the pointed end there was almost nothing in it.
Leclerc led the leaders, improving his first sector time. Yet Verstappen behind him went faster with an extremely impressive midsector and by the tiniest margin enjoyed the best of the race to the line, taking pole by two hundredths with a time of 1:10.342, in a thrilling finish .
Behind them Carlos Sainz was third but there was disappointment for the Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell who finished fourth and sixth. Both had fast laps on their final runs with Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff saying Hamilton was one-tenth on Verstappen’s time when Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez lost it in the final corner, forcing both to back off.
Hamilton believes a podium finish is still possible. “The car felt solid today and I felt I could go faster,” he said. “I hope that translates tomorrow. I will definitely push as hard as I can for a podium.
The excitable atmosphere was clearly too much for some. Dutch fans have been setting off orange flares in increasing volume since coming to meetings en masse with Verstappen as champion. A rocket landed on the track at the start of Q2, delaying the session. Signs at the entrance to the circuit point out that flares are prohibited but have been clearly ignored. The offender was kicked out by security and Verstappen condemned the behavior. “Throwing it on the track is just stupid,” he said, “it’s not good for anyone and for us it’s dangerous.”
The Dutchman is in a dominant position in the championship race. After nine wins, he has a 93-point lead over Pérez and 98 ahead of Leclerc. With another decent crop of points, he could potentially close out his second title as soon as Singapore or Japan. With very tricky overtaking here and starting from the front, he is in a strong position to get one step closer.
Lando Norris was seventh for McLaren, Mick Schumacher eighth for Haas, Yuki Tsunoda ninth for AlphaTauri and Lance Stroll 10th for Aston Martin.
Pierre Gasly was 11th for AlphaTauri, Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso 12th and 13th for Alpine, Guanyu Zhou 14th for Alfa Romeo and Alex Albon 15th for Williams.
Valtteri Bottas was 16th for Alfa Romeo, Kevin Magnussen 17th for Haas and Daniel Ricciardo 18th for McLaren. Sebastian Vettel was 19th for Aston Martin and Nicholas Latifi 20th for Williams.
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