Dutch delight as Max rules Zandvoort

Max Verstappen delivered a flawless drive to take a thrilling home win at the Dutch Grand Prix, beating title rival Lewis Hamilton by more than 20 seconds after the Mercedes driver made a late pit stop to salvage the point for fastest lap. Further back Sergio Perez put in a battling performance to rise from a pit lane start to finish in P8 at the flag.

When the lights went out Max made a superb getaway to take the lead. Hamilton attempted to respond but into turn one the Mercedes driver was forced to defend from teammate Valtteri Bottas and that allowed Max to power off into the distance. And a little over four kilometers later, as he crossed the line to begin the second lap, he was already 1.7s clear of his championship rival.

Meanwhile, at the back of the field and after an overnight engine change, Sergio Perez took to the track from the pit lane. He rapidly chased down Williams’ Nicholas Latifi and Haas’ Mick Schumacher and by lap three had moved up to P18. However, in doing so he locked up and flat-spotted his hard tyres. At the end of the eighth lap he dived into the pits and moved to medium tyres.

At the front the race began to stabilise, with Max holding a 3.5s lead to Hamilton. Bottas began to drift off the front pair however, and by lap 18 he was more than seven seconds adrift of his teammate.

Then, at the end of lap 20, Hamilton dived for the pits and made the switch to medium tyres. The Team reacted quickly and at the end of the next tour Max pitted for the same compound, emerging two seconds ahead of Hamilton.

Checo, meanwhile, was making stealthy progress through the pack and by lap 25 he was up to 14th place. His progress picked up two laps later when Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, Williams’ George Russell and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi pitted ahead of him. He rose to P11 and began to hunt down McLaren’s Lando Norris. He swiftly closed up to the McLaren, but having started on medium tyres, Norris was going long and he was able to match the Red Bull driver’s times.

As the race passed half distance Max was told to “give it everything you’ve got” as Mercedes prepared for an undercut. Hamilton pitted at the end of lap 39 for a set of medium tyres but thanks to a set of potent laps ahead of the Mercedes man’s stop, Max was able to pit at the end of lap 40, take on hard tyres and emerge with a clear gap to his championship rival.

Discussing the race win Max Verstappen commented “It’s incredible to win here today on another home track and it feels great to take the lead in the Driver’s Championship again. Of course the expectations were very high coming into the weekend and it’s never easy to fulfil that but the whole crowd has been incredible and I am so happy to win here. It was quite a tough race, Lewis was really putting the pressure on and both Mercedes’ had really good pace but we managed to have that three second buffer when we needed it and I think that was very important.

“We can be really pleased with the whole Team performance; we made the right calls and we managed the race really well. 72 laps around this track is cool, especially in front of all these fans, they were incredible throughout the whole race, I’ve never experienced anything like this before in my life. I will of course celebrate at home this evening, but Monza is just around the corner and the championship fight is tight, so I want to make sure we perform at our best.”

Further back, Norris finally made his sole stop for tyres on lap 43 and Checo was freed into clear air. He immediately picked up his pace to try to work a gap back to Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in advance of his second stop.

He made that visit to the pit lane at the end of lap 48 and took on a set of soft tyres. He re-joined in P12 and quickly passed Russell to relaunch his assault on the points positions. Soon he began to exert pressure on McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and on lap 56 he closed right up to the McLaren as the pair crossed the line. Checo dived to the left and made a brave but brilliant move around the outside stick to take P9.

His next target was the Australian’s teammate Norris and over the next 10 laps Checo turned a six second deficit into a gap of just half a second. Once again, he made a brilliant move around the outside of turn one to get past Norris, though there was contact as the McLaren driver held a very wide line through the corner.

The last task was to get past Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and in the final laps Sergio got the job done to complete an excellent recovery drive.

Discussing the race comeback Sergio Perez said “I gave it my all, every overtake was on the limit and I had to take a lot of risks. Today was all about damage limitation as I started from the pits after taking the penalty for the engine change. It was a bit of a shame at the end when Lando and I touched, I had a lot of damage on the right-hand side of the car. I think it was indecent racing as I wasn’t given enough space and I don’t think he could see me. Since that point I lost a lot of grip, otherwise, I definitely think P6 was on the cards today. I really wish I could have given more to the Dutch fans, they have been incredible all weekend. From now on it’s just about looking ahead and trying to come back strong in Monza.”

In those closing stages Hamilton closed to within 1.5 seconds of the lead RB16B but with his tyres fading and Max expertly managing the gap, the Mercedes driver eventually abandoned his pursuit of victory and pitted for soft tyres.

Hamilton took the fastest lap point on the final tour of Zandvoort, but Max’s seventh win of the season puts him back on top of the Drivers’ Championship standings with 224.5 points to Hamilton’s 221.5. In the Constructors’ Championship the Team still sits in P2 on 332.5 points, 12 behind Mercedes.

Team Principal Cristian Horner commented “It was an impeccable race for the Team today. There’s a fantastic atmosphere here and I’ve never seen a reaction like that in my whole career, the fans in Holland are incredible. It was important for Max to get a clean start, his ability to judge and read the grip level is very strong. We knew with the strategic options that Mercedes had that they were going to split the strategy and they did exactly that. It was also crucial for Max to make that pass on Valtteri quickly and then after that, we were able to cover Lewis. The Team did everything they could today to make sure Max had a smooth race and he did everything that he needed.

“Sergio won driver of the day and he has driven a great race. Not only did he take the penalty, he had a huge flat spot and we had to pit him for safety reasons, so he was in an even more difficult position then. He made great progress through the field, scoring important points for us and improving his confidence after a really tough Saturday. Looking ahead, Monza and Sochi are tracks that Mercedes have a stronghold, we’d expect them to have the upper hand, therefore the next two races are about trying to limit the damage and making sure we extract as much as we can out of the cars. It’s going to be really close and this championship looks like it’s going to go all the way to Abu Dhabi.”

With Bottas third at the flag, fourth place went to AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. The French driver also put in an impressive drive to finish ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and the Alpine of Fernando Alonso. Seventh place went to Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari and with Checo in P8 the final two points places went to Ocon and Norris.

Formula 1 now heads to the third race of the triple-header at Monza for the Italian GP.