Formula 1 Heineken Dutch Grand Prix
What I liked about this weekend is that the Dutch fans going to Zandvoort were told by the authorities and the drivers to keep the orange flare usage to a minimum due to the reduced visibility (And the smell) they caused, especially in the ‘Arena’ section at Turns 12 & 13.
Even Stevie Wonder could see that request would be falling on deaf ears, and my word it was brilliant.
All Images/GIFs/Audio: Formula One Management/Liberty Media
Prior to this weekend, Formula 1 hadn’t raced on a circuit with a banked corner since the demise of Indianapolis after 2007, which we can somewhat thank Michelin and their totally unsafe tyres for, but we got a banked corner at Zandvoort thanks to the modifications to Turns 3 and Turn 14, which were both re-profiled to banked corners a few years ago as part of the bid to bring Formula 1 back to Holland – The end result is that the track is now resembling a rollercoaster.
Duncraig Dan 2021, Chapter 13: Pass The Dutchy ‘Pon The Left Hand Side
After being forced to wait an extra 18 months, the dunes of Zandvoort returned to the World Championship for the first time since 1985, when Niki Lauda won for the 27th and final time from Alain Prost in a McLaren 1-2, and Ayrton Senna finished 3rd for Lotus.
If you’d like to know something unsettling, Prost is the only living driver that finished in the Top 5 that day – Lauda died in 2019, Michele Alboreto (4th for Ferrari) died in 2001, Senna died in 1994, and Elio de Angelis (5th in the sister Lotus) died in 1986…. Nigel Mansell finished 6th, and I’m pretty sure the only part of Nigel that’s no longer with us is his moustache.
On a more historical note, the race was held 51 years to the day that Jochen Rindt died in a crash at Monza, before he became the only posthumous World Champion, and it was 50 years to the day since the closest finish in the history of Grand Prix racing, the 1971 Italian Grand Prix, as Peter Gethin defeated Ronnie Peterson by 0.01s, and the Top 5 cars were covered by just 0.61s.
That was the only podium of Gethin’s career… He made it count.
Moving back to the present day, and on Wednesday, Kimi Raikkonen announced his retirement at the age of 41, after the longest career in Formula 1 history, ahead of what would’ve been his 345th Grand Prix, but it turned out The Iceman would barely get to enjoy the Dutch fans for the first and only time of his storied career, because he tested positive for the Coronavirus on Saturday morning before FP3, so reserve driver Robert Kubica filled in at Alfa Romeo for this weekend, which was his first F1 appearance since Abu Dhabi in 2019.
It remains to be seen if Kimi will feature for his Monza farewell, given he’ll have to conjure up a negative test, but in the meantime he is isolating, and in a classic case of Kimi being Kimi, the only close contacts required to isolate out of the entire paddock was Williams CEO Jost Capito, who had dinner with the Finn on Friday night, and his performance coach/physio Mark Arnall.
Most people forget, but Kimi Raikkonen is so old that he actually invented the concept of social distancing.
And at Sky F1, Jenson Button filled in for Martin Brundle as the colour commentator alongside David Croft, and Nico Rosberg also made a return to the coverage, and the 2016 World Champion revealed a piece of information people have wanted to know for years.”
“There’s two kinds of divers, those who pee in their wetsuit and those who lie about it.”
Despite a double upshift out of Turn 3 and forgetting to open his DRS flap on the run to the finish line, Max Verstappen delighted the Oranje crowd and took pole position with his final flying lap (1.08.885) ahead of Lewis Hamilton by only 38-hundreths of a second, as the two title rivals locked out the front row for the sixth time in 2021, which looked unlikely after Hamilton was forced out of FP2 on Friday due to an engine issue.
Coincidentally, Verstappen improved his pole time by 0.038s with that final lap, although had he not improved the time and tied with Hamilton, the Dutchman still would’ve taken pole position, as he’d set the time first.
Valtteri Bottas completed the Top 3, conceivably giving Mercedes a good chance to put pressure on the Dutchman, Pierre Gasly was a fantastic 4th for AlphaTauri, ahead of both Ferraris on the 3rd Row, Antonio Giovinazzi was a career-best 7th for Alfa Romeo out of relatively nowhere, Esteban Ocon started ahead of Fernando Alonso in the Alpine duel, and Daniel Ricciardo did out-qualify Lando Norris once again, but the Aussie was only 10th-fastest, and for whatever reason the McLaren just didn’t seem to gel with Zandvoort, because Lando Norris was caught down in 13th after the late red flag, marking the first time the Brit has missed Q1 this season.
And that was despite the sea of orange coming out to support the British team.
After the success on Saturday last week, Williams were back in the wars as George Russell backed into the wall during Q2, leaving him to start 11th, and with 2 minutes to go, Nicholas Latifi dipped a wheel on the grass at Turn 8, lost the rear and flew backwards into the barrier, which brought about an early end to the second session.
Further down the grid, Sebastian Vettel’s weekend was ruined in Q1 after he was caught in too much traffic, most notably behind both Haas drivers, who were too busy arguing over who got to start their final run first, an argument that continued well into Saturday night, while Sergio Perez was dumped out after starting his final Q1 run one second too late, an unforced error from the Mexican at a time when Red Bull didn’t need one, considering both Mercedes were directly behind his teammate.
Latifi would start the race from the pit lane after requiring a gearbox change, as did Perez, who was due to receive a grid penalty for exceeding his quota of power of components, so Red Bull made the most of his stuff-up and effectively minimised the pain that would’ve been coming regardless.
Race (72 Laps)
As the Dutch fans cracked the flares through the arena section, the only pre-race notes of note were that Pierre Gasly was allowed to change his set of starting tyres due to cuts picked up in qualifying, Giovinazzi would have his right front changed for the same reason, while Daniel Ricciardo had a potential issue when there was smoke puffing out the back of his McLaren on the sighting lap, which was given the all-clear on the grid by his engineers.
With pretty much everyone starting on the Soft tyre, Russell & Norris went for Mediums, and Perez did the Hard tyre Hail Mary, although the teams had absolutely no idea what tyre life would actually be.
As the race got underway through a smelly Orange smoke haze, Verstappen got the perfect getaway and led Hamilton as the Top 6 all held position, and there was so much action through the opening 2 sectors that you didn’t know where to look.
First of all at Turn 3, Alonso had dropped down to 9th behind teammate Ocon, and the Alpine teammates tagged wheels at Turn 2, right as Alonso was unknowingly almost t-boned by Russell, and completing this set of Alonso-related events, the Spaniard took the standard high line at Turn 3 as Ocon defended up the inside, with Alonso taking 8th place as a result:
Ricciardo did the same thing behind after dropping behind Russell allowing him to maintain 10th place, which became 9th place after Giovinazzi was first squeezed by Carlos Sainz, which allowed Alonso to pass him in the fast Turn 5-6 run, then Alonso had an enormous wobble on the bumps at Turn 7, which nearly resulted in Giovinazzi losing his front wing:
Thankfully he didn’t, but the Italian did lose 8th and 9th to Ocon and Ricciardo, who was apparently still smoking and dropping oil, but the issue clearly wasn’t affecting the McLaren, and he carried on in 9th.
With Verstappen’s lead nearing 3 seconds after the opening 5 laps, Hamilton was already on the radio to Peter Bonnington talking about the Soft tyres not being able to sustain the pace, and it’s reached the point in Lewis’ career where you take anything he says about tyre performance with a pinch of salt.
On Lap 8, Ocon complained on the radio that he was quicker than Alonso, who was most likely conserving his tyres to extend his opening stint, and despite Ocon being within DRS range for several laps, he never made a lunge on his teammate, and ultimately Alpine never issued any team orders to swap places, which did allow both Ferraris to comfortably build a gap in 5th and 6th.
By leading the opening 9 laps, Verstappen also brought up the milestone of 1000 laps led in his career, while further down, Perez’ compromised weekend wasn’t made any easier as he had a huge lock-up into Tarzan corner attempting to pass Mazepin, and the Mexican would have to stop on Lap 9 due to an enormous flatspot on the right front.
It seemed to work out for Perez, because he went on to the Mediums and started setting fastest laps in clean air, which was liquid gold on the tight track, and he was one of the few drivers on the track who could pull off an overtake, first passing Mazepin without any issue on Lap 17, then he went up the inside of Latifi at Turn 10 on Lap 19, the Canadian fought back, but Perez went around the outside at the Turn 11-12 Chicane.
In the first major pit activity of the race, Hamilton pitted at the end of Lap 20 for a set of Medium tyres, which was the definitive sign he’d gone on to a 2-stop strategy, and Red Bull knew straight away they had to cover Hamilton by pitting Verstappen at the end of Lap 21, which was the right move as the World Champion set purple sectors on his out-lap in clean air, which reduced the gap from 3.7 seconds to 2 seconds.
So with his only job to use the track position to keep Verstappen behind for as long as possible, Bottas was now in the lead by 10 seconds, but that went down to 6 seconds in 2 laps as the Finn reported vibrations, and not the kind that The Beach Boys were going on about.
With the gap between 2nd and 3rd down to 1.4 seconds, Verstappen was within DRS range of Bottas on Lap 29, but he couldn’t get past immediately, putting the Red Bull in the dirty air for a lap, but Verstappen got a great run on the Finn out of the Chicane and was eventually through into the lead down the pit straight into Tarzan corner on Lap 31, albeit with a lead of just 0.8s to Hamilton, who was given the red carpet treatment almost immediately, but in clear air, Verstappen pulled out 8-tenths and was on his way again.
Meantime in the great game of pit stops, Gasly pitted from 4th on Lap 24, briefly dropping down to 7th before he clean passed Alonso around out the outside of Tarzan corner with the grip advantage, Giovinazzi, Russell and Stroll all pitted on Lap 28 and joined the growing list of drivers falling a lap down, and Ricciardo stopped on Lap 30 for a run to the end on Hard tyres.
Bottas would eventually stop on Lap 31 and comfortably emerge ahead of LeClerc, who would be in for his service a few laps later, Sainz was back out in 6th, while Ocon and Alonso both stopped and went on to Mediums until the end of the race, something that wasn’t in Pirelli’s race forecast, but the French team needed a strategy to try and claw back time on the Ferraris, who had both gone on to Hard tyres.
So as the cars approached half-race distance, almost half the field had been lapped, Perez had charged his way into the points, and Norris, who had started the race on the Mediums, was able to stretch his legs in clean air and try and work his way into the points, which was out of Giovinazzi’s reach after he had to pit again due to a puncture, and George Russell would soon follow after he was given a 5-second time penalty for speeding in pit lane, right as he passed Stroll for 13th.
Bottas’ directive from the Mercedes pit wall was to emerge ahead of Verstappen when the Dutchman pitted again, and that little mission was given a kick in the gonads when Vettel spun at Turn 3 on Lap 38 after going for an inside move on Kubica, which forced Bottas to run wide and lock up to avoid the Aston Martin, costing him a couple of seconds.
In a move that they’ve pulled on Red Bull before, Mercedes brought Hamilton in for an early second stop on Lap 40 and used the extra Medium tyre set they had available to try an undercut, but the gamble backfired when Hamilton couldn’t get ahead of the lapped Ricciardo coming out of pit lane, and Red Bull sensed the moment and pitted Verstappen for his final stop straight away, and it worked perfectly, because Max now had track position, he could now go to the end on Hard tyres, whereas Hamilton was walking the tightrope.
Mazepin became the first retirement of the race on Lap 43, right as Norris finally stopped, emerging directly behind Ricciardo and cutting Russell adrift, and Ricciardo, who had been told to slow Russell down in the build up to Norris’ stop was eventually sacrificed by the McLaren pit wall to let Norris into the points on Lap 46.
Perez stopped again on Lap 48, emerging on the Soft tyre in 11th place, as Tsunoda’s forgettable race ended on Lap 49 after losing power, and Hamilton was back on the radio to Bono talking about his Mediums not making it to the end, although in typical Lewis fashion, after complaining about tyres, he set a fastest lap on Lap 49.
Further down, Norris was much faster than Ocon, which led McLaren to ask Ricciardo to hold Perez up, which is easier said than done on Hards against a faster car on a fresh set of Softs, and Perez completed the pass on Lap 55 around the outside at Tarzan.
Hamilton once again got within a second of Verstappen after he caught traffic, which was back out to 2.5 seconds after Lewis had to get through and Max got into clean air…
Although, according to the AWS tyre performance graphic, Verstappen, who had stopped only 18 laps prior, apparently had 10% performance left on his Hard tyres, which didn’t quite look like they’d been worn down to the carcasses… In fact, they still look like they’d rolled out of the Pirelli factory.
Either Max had the shittiest set of tyres in Pirelli’s stock, or the crew at AWS were enjoying some quality Dutch hash brownies… I’ll go the latter.
Still, if Verstappen’s 19 lap old Hards had 10% left, I wonder what Gasly’s 40+ lap old Mediums were looking like by the end of the race… Just a picture of a wheel rim without rubber on it?
So on tyres that were ticking time bombs, Verstappen’s lead was out to 4 seconds with 10 laps to go, as Hamilton was starting to feel the pinch on a visibly worn front left tyre, and I’d like to think that at this stage Lewis had accepted there was no shame in running 2nd to a dominant Red Bull at home.
Further down, with the entire field outside of the podium places lapped, Charles LeClerc still couldn’t find a way past Gasly for 4th, Alonso had caught Sainz but couldn’t find a way past, and Perez had caught Norris, but had to wait until Lap 66 to pass the Brit, despite the two cars making pretty solid contact at Tarzan Corner, before Checo was well ahead by Turn 3.
With 3rd place secured, Bottas stopped again on Lap 67, which Ted Kravitz on Sky F1 attributed to Mercedes having issues with cuts on the tyres, although it was seemingly an attempt to take the fastest lap bonus point, which was held by Hamilton, which would’ve meant Lewis was also stopping again, but right when Bottas was on the fastest lap, Mercedes team strategist James Vowles got on the radio to Bottas and told him to abort the lap, but it was too late, because to the cheers of the entire world, Bottas set the fastest lap on Lap 70 with a lap that was 8 tenths faster, although Hamilton had already stopped for Softs to take the fastest lap back on the last lap.
I felt Valtteri should’ve gone for the fastest lap… What are Mercedes gonna do, make him leave for Alfa Romeo and replace him with a younger driver?
So after a weekend of partying in Zandvoort that was so big that King Willem-Alexander & Queen Maxima of the Netherlands wanted in, the Oranje fans had the result they all expected to see – Max Verstappen had won the Dutch Grand Prix, AND THE FLARES WENT OFF!
In addition, the Dutchman is back in the championship lead by 3 points (202.5 to 199.5), as Hamilton finished a very comfortable 2nd, also claiming the fastest lap with a 1.11.097, which was a second faster than the previous best, Bottas was back in the points with a 3rd placing, also reclaiming 3rd in the Championship, and the Finn was the last driver on the lead lap, as Gasly made the most of the Mediums and stayed ahead of LeClerc to take 4th and 5th, and Alpine’s bold tyre call paid off when Alonso didn’t even need Tarzan corner to pass Sainz for 6th on the penultimate lap!
That wasn’t the only late points position change, because in a move that wasn’t seen live, Perez caught Ocon for 8th with a lovely switchback at Turn 10 approaching the Orange fog, and after starting from pit lane, Checo was awarded Driver of the Day, probably because he was one of the few drivers who could consistently overtake other cars:
Norris completed the Top 10, Ricciardo was 11th on a terrible day for McLaren, who dropped 17 points to Ferrari in this tense fight for 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship, the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel were next in 12th and 13th, the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Kubica continued this hilarious Noah’s Ark finishing formation, and the last driver to actually finish was Latifi in 16th, as Williams teammate Russell didn’t see the chequered flag due to a gearbox issue that forced him to pit just shy of the finish.
If you want another laugh, this is Fernando Alonso on the last lap driving through Turns 12 & 13 after the Dutch fans set off another couple of flares in celebration of Max:
After a generation of waiting, not only did the Dutch fans have their home Grand Prix back, they got to celebrate a win for the only Dutch driver to win a Grand Prix in history.
This win was Max’s 17th Grand Prix win, moving him to outright 17th overall at the age of 24, which also means he now has the record for the most Grand Prix wins of any non-World Champion, temporarily ending Sir Stirling Moss’ run with that unfortunate record, and it was Max’s 100th points finish from 132 starts.
There’s still a way to go yet!
Up next: The Italian Grand Prix at Monza THIS WEEKEND, featuring the dreaded return of SPRINT QUALIFYING….