Max Verstappen’s fans had been waiting for this moment all season and with his win at the Dutch Grand Prix he delivered with aplomb. The Dutch lion roared in front of a home crowd at Zandvoort that had come for a party and Verstappen proved a munificent host. Retaking the lead in the title fight by beating Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton into second was his reward in this tightly fought season that continues to ebb and flow.
Verstappen won for Red Bull with a commanding drive from pole, becoming the first Dutch driver to win the Dutch GP, first held in 1952 and 36 years after the last meeting. Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was third. Verstappen leads Hamilton by three points in the drivers’ standings but Mercedes have extended their lead in the constructors’ championship to 12 points.
Hamilton acknowledged he simply did not have the pace to match Red Bull nor did Mercedes execute at their best. “They were definitely faster today, there was not a lot I could do to answer the lap times they were putting in,” he said.
“We needed everything to be perfect to even have the slightest chance of getting past him through strategy for example. Pit stops, strategy and traffic needed to be on point but none of those three were ideal.”
Zandvoort has been a sea of orange all weekend and on race day an almost permanent haze of orange smoke from the flares set off in the grandstands hung over the circuit. The noise from the 70,000 fans drowned out even the pounding techno that echoed round the track and Verstappen revelled in the atmosphere and the challenge.
“The whole race it was quite close between myself and Lewis, he was really putting the pressure on, putting in some great laps,” he said. “The fans have high expectations because they want you to win but it is never that straightforward. An incredible feeling to win, an amazing day.”
Before the race the atmosphere was febrile, afterwards ecstatic. Much has been made of some Dutch fans booing Hamilton of late but their contribution to making this GP feel like a real event, that it was a sporting contest of passion and meaning was immense. They should be applauded and indeed with their man on the on the top step they had cheers too for Hamilton’s valiant effort to spoil their fun.
Over a million people had applied for tickets, hundreds more lined the fences in the dunes outside for a glimpse of the cars in the distance and for those lucky enough to make it they revelled in the joyous moment when, for them, F1 came home. Verstappen too was visibly moved as he stood atop the podium draped in the Dutch flag, the emotions writ large on his face, bowing his head as the national anthem was performed.
For Hamilton, with nine races remaining, the ominous form of Red bull was clearly a concern. He has not won a race on pure pace since the Spanish Grand Prix, nine meetings ago.
“We have given it absolutely everything,” he said. “Since the first race these guys have had such a strong car all year we have been trying as hard as we can. We had a couple of races where we looked just about on par but there have only been a couple of those and they took a big leap. We need to pick up some speed if we want to win races in future.”
Verstappen had wanted to make an emphatic statement after the clash with Hamilton at the British Grand Prix. The 23-year-old’s win at the last round in Spa was a victory in name only but he made his point with crushing finality at Zandvoort, albeit in a race that was something of a procession.
He had held his lead from pole and thereafter flew. Immediately opening over a two-second gap to Hamilton. Without the pace to challenge, the world champion did what he could to stay with his opponent and Mercedes twice tried the undercut by pitting him before Red Bull. Yet it was in vain.
Their first stop was slow and on the second Hamilton’s deficit to Verstappen was already wide when he came out in traffic.
Red Bull in turn handled Verstappen’s stops to perfection, covering off Hamilton’s immediately a lap later each time, the team executing with precision to deny Hamilton a sniff of a chance. Track position was all and Verstappen held it with an iron grip.
After the final stops with Hamilton on softer tyres he tried all he could to pressure the Dutchman but Verstappen is proving to be all but impervious to such tactics, carrying his title challenge with considerable grace and delighting the Orange Army as he does so.
In the final moments there was drama and portent for Mercedes in the clearest indication yet that the team will be taking on Williams’ George Russell to replace Bottas next season. The Finn has been meticulous in following orders in the past but when he pitted late and was instructed not to go for the fastest lap he went quickest until he was reminded again not to risk denying Hamilton. He backed off and Hamilton duly took the extra point.
“I was just playing around” Bottas said with a flippancy he has not displayed before. The Finn too was making a point, with an announcement on Russell’s appointment expected next week.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was in fourth and Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in fifth and seventh for Ferrari, Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were sixth and ninth for Alpine, Sergio Pérez in eighth for Red Bull and Lando Norris in 10th for McLaren.