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Duel in the Dunes
The Dutch Grand Prix
Text & Photos | Thomas Lam
Edit | Henry Lau

Max Verstappen’s error-free victory at the Dutch Grand Prix vaults him ahead of Lewis Hamilton and once again into the lead of the 2021 F1 championship


Overview

Verstappen’s 17th career triumph set off impassioned celebrations among his 70,000-plus countrymen overspilling the dunes of the seaside Zandvoort Circuit. Hamilton finished as runner-up, with Valtteri Bottas third in the other Mercedes.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton, who voiced frequent doubts about his team’s race plan over the final 30 laps, now trails Verstappen by three points.

The Brit was also forced to battle for the fastest lap on the final lap after team-mate Bottas defied an order not to beat Hamilton’s previous best time.

Setting the Stage after Belgium

Verstappen’s Orange Army created one of the best Formula One atmospheres of recent times on the sport’s return to Holland after 36 years away.

It was a far cry from the near debacle of the rain-swept Belgian Grand Prix, just seven days earlier.

Unrelenting rain throughout Saturday saw qualifying come down to a duel between Verstappen and Hamilton after

 Williams pilot George Russell delivered the performance of his life to secure a shock front row start.

Master of the Wet

Russell looked to have mastered a sodden but drying Spa- Francorchamps circuit, the Williams driver building confidence through the session to set purple sectors across the board to take provisional pole at the flag.

But title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen were still on the circuit, with Hamilton going purple in the second sector but losing a bit of ground in the final sector to miss out by just 0.013s.

Then attention switched to Verstappen, who went purple in the second sector and then the final sequence of corners to snare pole for the sixth time this season to the joy of the loyal Dutch fans who had packed the grandstands all day at Spa in wet and cold conditions.

The Deluge

Come Sunday, the start time was pushed back to 3:10 pm, then 3:15 pm and finally 3:25 pm. The now streaming rain forced the FIA’s race director Michael Masi to grid the cars and take two exploratory laps behind the safety car before throwing the red flag.

After nearly three hours of waiting, the field reformed and took two additional laps behind the safety car. The chequers were

then displayed, ending the race. The victory went to Verstappen, and podium finishes to Russell and Hamilton.

Qualifying

The most significant changes for the old-school Zandvoort Circuit were new steep banking around the track – particularly at Turns 1 and 3 and the final turn.

Max Verstappen dominated the timesheets to take pole, with Lewis Hamilton digging deep but coming up short. He would start second. Valtteri Bottas was third for Mercedes and Pierre Gasly, an exceptional fourth for AlphaTauri.

Lando Norris was only 13th, Sergio Pérez was knocked out in Q1 after failing to cross the line in time to start a new hot lap and both Williams cars crashing towards the end of Q2.

The Dutch Grand Prix

Max Verstappen burst from his starting marks, moving his Red Bull over immediately to keep Hamilton at bay in the charge to the opening Tarzanbocht. By the end of the opening lap, he was already 1.7 seconds clear of his rival.

By Lap 2, it’s grown to 2.2s, as Verstappen begins the process of disappearing up the road. Bottas is 1.5s behind Hamilton. The key for Verstappen was to get out of the undercut range from both Mercedes cars.

Hamilton blinked first, stopping for new rubber on Lap 20, but his Mercedes crew were slow changing the Brit’s front-right tyre, costing him a second.

Verstappen pitted on the next lap emerging ahead of Hamilton – but with the gap reduced from three seconds to 1.5.

Bottas Tries One Stop

Mercedes put Bottas on a one-stop plan, hoping he would slow Verstappen down enough to allow Hamilton to undercut the Dutchman after his following tyre change.

“It is going to be absolutely critical to catch and pass Bottas if we can,” Verstappen was told by his race engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase.

Verstappen responded by wiping out Bottas’ 10-second advantage in just seven laps.

On Lap 30, on the exit of the final corner, Verstappen made his pass, moving into Bottas’ tow and then streaking around the outside of the Mercedes on the start-finish straight.

Hamilton’s Second Stop

Hamilton followed Verstappen through and was within seven- tenths only to see his Red Bull rival extend his lead to 1.6 seconds by the end of the next lap. It had increased to three seconds when Mercedes pulled the Brit in for a second stop on Lap 39.

 On track, Verstappen put the hammer down, extending his lead. Hamilton rejoined amid traffic on his set of mediums.

Red Bull instantly responded, bringing Verstappen in for his second stop. The Dutchman has only hard tyres remaining. Luckily he emerged comfortably ahead of Hamilton.

Spoiled Bluff

“We called our bluff too soon,” complained the Mercedes driver. Moments later, he was on the radio again. “I had so much life left in that tyre,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know why we rushed it.”

Hamilton started to draw Verstappen in again, but race engineer Peter Bonnington warned the Brit to make his rubber last.

“I am pushing to close this gap, man,” Hamilton snapped, “Come on.”

But Hamilton failed to make any impression on Verstappen. After stopping for fresh tyres to set the fastest lap, Hamilton finished 20.9s behind the Dutchman, with Bottas more than 56s in arrears.

Go Go Gasly

Pierre Gasly continues to impress, finishing a sterling fourth, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz fifth and sixth, respectively.

Lando Norris and Sergio Perez found time to bang wheels and bodywork on Lap 67 in the battle for ninth in a race of few incidents. Perez took the position with Norris 10th for McLaren.

Verstappen has single-handedly revived F1 interest in the Netherlands.

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