Hong Kong: After a 36-year hiatus, Formula One returned to the Netherlands for a race weekend at Zandvoort, and local hero Max Verstappen gave the 65,000-odd fans a race to remember.
The young Dutchman took the chequered flag from his championship rival Lewis Hamilton to swing the title race back in his favour and open up a 3-point lead. Here are the main talking points from the weekend at the historic track.
Zandvoort justifies the return of F1 to the city
While Formula One has been adding a lot of new tracks and venues to its calendar, Zandvoort served a timely reminder that old school tracks such as these are still capable of delivering classics.
The track has, quite literally, been pretty unforgiving to the drivers, with the tight gravel traps and narrow run-off areas, pushing the drivers to be at their best.
Six red flags across the space of four sessions on Friday and Saturday is a clear testament to the previous statement and while everyone expected incidents and red flags on race day, the drivers too raised the game and provided an accident-free but pure, hard racing worth of 72 laps.
Throughout the weekend, drivers relished the track for pushing them to their limits and while going to new venues in new countries is definitely good for the sport in terms of amplifying its reach, iconic tracks like Zandvoort are still worth coming back to.
Further, the festive mood and the incredible support from the raucous fans for their local hero Max Verstappen do point to multiple returns to this country and this track.
Dominant Max retakes the title lead
Ever since F1 announced the race at Zandvoort, Max Verstappen has been desperate to give his Orange Army a weekend to remember, and that’s exactly what he did. Red flags and on-track traffic problems meant he couldn’t quite conjure up a clean fast lap but come qualifying, he overcame DRS problems on his car and set the fastest lap to take the pole position, narrowly beating the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.
During the race, he was at his dominant best, as he controlled the lead and the race pace from the start, while also claiming the record of having 1,000 laps led in F1, en route to his 17th race win. Consequently, after reducing Lewis’ lead at the Belgian GP, he now retook the lead of the championship by 3 points and if there’s something we know for sure, is that this championship’s going right down to the wire.
What more does Gasly have to do to earn a big seat?
Another one to have a clean and consistent weekend was Pierre Gasly, who continued his excellent run of form by qualifying and finishing fourth in the race. While his teammate Yuki Tsunoda endured another miserable weekend, qualifying 15th and registering a DNF during the race, Gasly had no such problems as he unfailingly put his car in places it did not belong and absorbed all the pressure from Leclerc in the race to finish in P4 as the best of the rest. His exploits have put Alphatauri in sixth place in the championship, just 16 points adrift of fifth-placed but much quicker Alpine.
All this just begs the question — what more does he have to do to get a seat at one of the top teams? As Red Bull confirmed Sergio Perez for the second seat for 2022 and few seats at the top teams available, it looks likely that he’ll continue at Alphatauri for the next year and if he continues to keep up this level, maybe 2023 is when he finally gets his chance at a deserved hot seat?
Fight for P3 in Constructor’s Championship heats up
Ferrari and McLaren have been fighting it out since the start of the season to claim the third place as their own in the constructors’ championship. Coming into this weekend, McLaren had the upper hand and while Ferrari didn’t have the cleanest of races, they did get a weekend that they wanted.
The McLarens, especially Lando Norris, have always been quick and whenever Ferrari seemed to have a good weekend, so did McLaren, and this proved to be problematic in overtaking them in the standings. However, this weekend, the McLarens’ qualifying of P10 and P13 at a track where overtaking is comparatively difficult, enabled Ferrari to capitalize.
Having started P5 and P6 and finishing P5 and P7 meant that Ferrari took away a good haul of points as compared to just one point for McLaren. The result pushed Ferrari above their British rivals into P3 in the championship and the teams look set to fight it out over the rest of the season for the bragging rights of ‘the best of the rest’.
So, after a dream couple of races for Max Verstappen, next up we head to the temple of speed at Monza in Italy this week, where no doubt Lewis Hamilton will be keen to get back at his championship rival. Monza also being Ferrari’s home track means the Tifosi will be more than eager to put up a rocking atmosphere and a special show. Round 14 of the Formula One calendar awaits.