Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Zandvoort, 2021

Verstappen fighting alone again against Hamilton at home

2021 Dutch Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Max Verstappen has completed the essential first step towards capturing his first home win by taking pole position for the Dutch Grand Prix.

But it was a mixed result for Red Bull in qualifying, as Sergio Perez failed to progress beyond Q1. That will undoubtedly make it harder for Verstappen to se off the threat of the two Mercedes starting behind him.

The cramped pit lane the risk of interruptions to the race could make Verstappen’s job less straightforward.

The difficulty of overtaking should count in his favour, however. Zandvoort’s revamped circuit has been praised by drivers as fun and challenging but is unlikely to see much overtaking on Sunday.

Uneven standings

Start, race one, Formula 3, Zandvoort, 2021
The opening F3 race saw Arthur Leclerc take the lead from third
Verstappen took a rightly celebrated home grand prix pole but he starts with one Mercedes alongside him and the other directly behind. Lewis Hamilton has a clear run down the inside for the run to Tarzan while Valtteri Bottas is well positioned to take the outside line if an opportunity appears there.

Despite the sand blown regularly across the track from the nearby beaches, the support races gave little indication of any particular disadvantage to starting on the ‘dirty’ side of the grid at the front. Those lining up fourth haven’t done that well – Pierre Gasly take note, the AlphaTauri driver having matched his best starting position of the season so far.

Having failed to get out of Q1 Perez is likely to switch to a fresh engine, taking the opportunity to serve an inevitable grid penalty on a day when it should only cost him four places. But that will leave his team mate on his own at the front.

That’s often been the case for Verstappen this year and doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a sitting duck, Mercedes seeming to lose more times than they win in straight strategy battles with Red Bull this season. But it does present an opportunity for Hamilton or even Bottas to steal Verstappen’s home win, especially given pit stops are likely to be a major position decider.

Tyre strategy

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Zandvoort, 2021
The Mercedes pair will start on older tyres than Verstappen
Where Mercedes do have a clear disadvantage is that both Hamilton and Bottas will start on tyres that are more worn than Verstappen’s. The later red flag interruptions to Q2 prevented them trying to beat the times they set on four-lap-old soft tyres for fresher rubber.

That might not matter too much, given every car in the top 10 will start on soft tyres, but Mercedes will be hoping for something to mix up the strategy to offer a means of disrupting Red Bull’s afternoon. A Safety Car is the most obvious possibility, and may come to the aid of Mercedes if they can’t stretch out their first stint too long on their worn rubber.

The upside for Mercedes against comes from Perez’s absence from the sharp end. If they can’t pass Verstappen at the start, perhaps they can stalk him long enough to split the strategies between their drivers and attack that way. But even this is a big ‘if’ given the long-run pace Verstappen had on Friday.

Should the Safety Car appear and drivers pit en masse they may encounter another problem. The Zandvoort pit lane is extremely tight and, as a result, the speed limit has been set at the lower limit of 60kph compared to the usual 80 for road courses. “It’s very cramped,” Aston Martin CEO Otmar Szafnauer said.

“I think in a race situation, if it’s just one car at a time, it’s definitely do-able, we just have to be cautious. But stacking them, if for whatever reason we need to stack that will be a bit more tricky.”

Charles Leclerc indicated Ferrari may need to avoid heading for the pits at the same time as their pit neighbours. “It’s going to be very tricky, the pit lane. It’s very difficult to get to our spot if Alpine is doing a pit stop. So it’s going to be tricky if we and Alpine are in at the same time.”

Overtaking on track

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Zandvoort, 2021
Drivers expect overtaking will be fraught with difficulty
After the Belgian Grand Prix demonstrated what an F1 parade race would look like, hopefully Zandvoort won’t be quite that processional. However, drivers have become convinced throughout the weekend that there’s very little chance of overtaking.

The two places that support race drivers have done most overtaking have been the final corner and through turn three. A few brave moves into Tarzan aside, the DRS drag down the main straight hasn’t proven all that effective for F3 – in fact W Series, without DRS, seemed to be able to make better use of it. However, both junior championships use spec cars, where no one team has a huge advantage over another.

Lando Norris, who failed to reach Q3 for the first time this season, was doubtful about his prospects of moving forward. “Zandvoort is not the place you want to be anywhere other than the front of the grid, really. So it’s going to be tricky. But it’s tricky for everyone.

“It’s also at the same time opportunities for us to try and gain a couple of positions and we can try and get into the points as well, that’s the aim. But I think everyone knows it’s not going to be an easy place because of the difficulty to overtake and follow around the circuit. But on the other hand, we have the yellow flags and the crashes and the red flags and yes, that can also play into our hands.”

Flags of various colours

Red flag, Zandvoort, 2021
F1 has seen six stoppages already this weekend
Red flags have been the most disruptive during all the pre-race sessions at Zandvoort. By the end of qualifying, there had been six during F1’s track time alone and no full session had gone without stoppage.

However as F3 and W Series have shown the Safety Car is more likely to appear in the race for the kind of crashes which stopped qualifying today.

Blue flags will also be a frequent sight around the 4.2-kilometre circuit. Leaders are likely to lap the tail of the field quickly and then struggle to find space to regain positions.

Fernando Alonso was pessimistic that cars would be able to make good manoeuvres, at least early in the race. Qualifying “was fun because the low-fuel car feels very fast here and it was enjoyable to drive,” he said.

“But I think tomorrow is going to be maybe different with the heavy cars [that are] not easy to overtake. Maybe it’s a little bit more a boring race. But let’s see.”

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full

DriverCarQ1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Max VerstappenRed Bull1’10.0361’09.071 (-0.965)1’08.885 (-0.186)
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’10.1141’09.726 (-0.388)1’08.923 (-0.803)
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’10.2191’09.769 (-0.450)1’09.222 (-0.547)
4Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’10.2741’09.541 (-0.733)1’09.478 (-0.063)
5Charles LeclercFerrari1’09.8291’09.437 (-0.392)1’09.527 (+0.090)
6Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’10.0221’09.870 (-0.152)1’09.537 (-0.333)
7Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’10.0501’10.033 (-0.017)1’09.590 (-0.443)
8Esteban OconAlpine1’10.1791’09.919 (-0.260)1’09.933 (+0.014)
9Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’10.4351’10.020 (-0.415)1’09.956 (-0.064)
10Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’10.2551’09.865 (-0.390)1’10.166 (+0.301)
11George RussellWilliams1’10.3821’10.332 (-0.050)
12Lance StrollAston Martin1’10.4381’10.367 (-0.071)
13Lando NorrisMcLaren1’10.4891’10.406 (-0.083)
14Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’10.0931’11.161 (+1.068)
15Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’10.4621’11.314 (+0.852)
16Sergio PerezRed Bull1’10.530
17Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’10.731
18Robert KubicaAlfa Romeo1’11.301
19Mick SchumacherHaas1’11.387
20Nikita MazepinHaas1’11.875

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Max Verstappen23.961 (1)23.366 (1)21.457 (3)
Lewis Hamilton24.149 (4)23.438 (2)21.336 (1)
Valtteri Bottas24.155 (5)23.620 (3)21.347 (2)
Pierre Gasly24.148 (3)23.654 (5)21.544 (5)
Charles Leclerc24.196 (7)23.627 (4)21.529 (4)
Carlos Sainz Jnr24.237 (8)23.723 (6)21.577 (6)
Antonio Giovinazzi24.064 (2)23.894 (11)21.632 (7)
Esteban Ocon24.324 (9)23.843 (8)21.669 (10)
Fernando Alonso24.329 (10)23.885 (10)21.685 (11)
Daniel Ricciardo24.372 (11)23.828 (7)21.665 (9)
George Russell24.171 (6)23.985 (14)21.889 (14)
Lance Stroll24.409 (13)23.937 (12)21.774 (13)
Lando Norris24.390 (12)24.028 (16)21.901 (15)
Nicholas Latifi24.450 (14)23.969 (13)21.655 (8)
Yuki Tsunoda24.695 (17)23.996 (15)21.771 (12)
Sergio Perez24.595 (15)23.856 (9)21.930 (18)
Sebastian Vettel24.623 (16)24.207 (17)21.901 (15)
Robert Kubica24.814 (19)24.431 (18)21.924 (17)
Mick Schumacher24.803 (18)24.551 (19)22.033 (19)
Nikita Mazepin25.097 (20)24.617 (20)22.161 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari320.1 (198.9)
2Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes319.1 (198.3)-1.0
3Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes316.4 (196.6)-3.7
4Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes316.0 (196.4)-4.1
5Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari315.8 (196.2)-4.3
6Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes314.5 (195.4)-5.6
7Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes314.3 (195.3)-5.8
8Robert KubicaAlfa RomeoFerrari314.1 (195.2)-6.0
9Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault313.7 (194.9)-6.4
10Esteban OconAlpineRenault312.7 (194.3)-7.4
11George RussellWilliamsMercedes312.5 (194.2)-7.6
12Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes312.1 (193.9)-8.0
13Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda311.7 (193.7)-8.4
14Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari311.3 (193.4)-8.8
15Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes310.8 (193.1)-9.3
16Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari310.6 (193.0)-9.5
17Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari310.6 (193.0)-9.5
18Sergio PerezRed BullHonda310.1 (192.7)-10.0
19Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda309.4 (192.3)-10.7
20Max VerstappenRed BullHonda308.7 (191.8)-11.4

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Over to you

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2021 Dutch Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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21 comments on “Verstappen fighting alone again against Hamilton at home”

  1. Will Merc do a Talladega Shake n’ Bake?

    1. PS> I think any overtaking will be all about the undercut.

      Over cut does not appear to work on this track?

      1. someone or something
        4th September 2021, 22:52

        Overcut doesn’t sound very likely, as the track is rather abrasive, so there’s always going to be an advantage for fresher tyres.
        On the other hand, the long runs in Free Practice have shown that the tyre wear isn’t that bad. In conjunction with the fact that it’s a very short lap, this should prevent the undercut from being overly powerful.
        In other words, if two cars of similar pace pit within a lap of each other, the most likely outcome should be no change in position.
        Of course, cars starting out of position, especially Pérez, should be able to gain places during the pit stops by doing the opposite of their rivals.

        1. “@someone or something”

          Don’t forget about the massive track congestion/traffic there will be and how it will play out in the tactics and pitstop strategies.

          Bummer that overtaking is not really possible on the track and now sounding like even pitstops may not effect overtaking but the likelihood of red flags happening on Sunday seems high and wondering how that will effect the racing and strategies? Maybe a team will get away with making no pitstops in the race and just change tires during red flags? I guess we’ll find out.

          1. someone or something
            5th September 2021, 0:30

            Don’t forget about the massive track congestion/traffic there will be and how it will play out in the tactics and pitstop strategies.

            That’s the reason why I wrote that strategy-wise, this race may well have a lot in common with Monaco. Overtaking hard to impossible, undercut unlikely to work on pace alone (let alone with traffic), high chance of neutralisations cheapening pit stops => Best strategy will likely consist in waiting things out and getting the others to pit first, then covering them.
            Another important aspect will be the pace Gasly and the Ferraris can keep. No disrespect to Giovinazzi, but I’d be surprised if he could keep up, so the cars Verstappen and the Mercedes will have to watch out for are Gasly and the Ferraris (and possibly the Alpines, if they can get past Giovinazzi), because even if one of them has the pace to make an aggressive undercut work, passing any of these cars should be virtually impossible.

  2. someone or something
    4th September 2021, 22:46

    Red Bull will be wary of Mercedes splitting strategies. But the undercut will not be quite as powerful as it would be on a longer lap, and, as pointed out, Verstappen may have enough pace in hand to drive away from such considerations.
    Additionally, given the high probability of the Safety Car being deployed at one stage or another, there’s less to gain by pitting early. Staying out as long as possible and waiting for a cheap pit stop should be more likely to succeed. And if that doesn’t happen, managing a gap and waiting for your rivals to pit before you should also be a solid strategy.
    In many respects, this is shaping up to be a very similar race to Monaco, though hopefully with more on-track overtakes, and with the first lap out of the pits actually being faster.

    1. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
      5th September 2021, 5:13

      Won’t matter when merc takes out max lap 1

      1. someone or something
        5th September 2021, 11:02

        much insight
        very added value
        wow

      2. See how verstappen started fast and ran away the first turns? Was afraid of being taken out again!

  3. I don’t think a lack of Perez or Mercedes having tactical flexibility will be the problem here. Verstappen and the Red Bull look like they have pace in hand. What I do think will decide the race is that very thin line between being fast and going over the line. This track is so difficult and so unforgiving. We’ll see a lot of mistakes, mostly killing. Don’t see why that can’t happen to the frontrunners either.

    1. I agree, this will not be boring

  4. Tomorrow will be a total snooze. Max will pull at least 7-10 seconds before the first stops meaning Mercedes have no options at all. Without a safety car or red flag he will win by a minimum of 20 seconds.

    1. That would be great and would not be a snooze for me.

    2. Didn’t happen, mercedes seemed up there, depending on tyres, with hamilton ofc, you can’t use the argument “bottas was further behind” cause look where perez was.

  5. Nothing new, then. This has been his lot for just about the entire season to this point. The nature of the circuit means it should be an easy victory for VER.

  6. Just concentrate on outscoring Hamilton.

  7. An overtaking fest is unlikely unless Perez can climb through the field fast.
    A blue flag fest, yes, although a similar story for all short tracks.

  8. You mean:
    Max is Home alone.

    1. And we know how that ended for the “visitors”

  9. Max should win today and I honestly don’t think there will be an answer from anyone. The only person that can ruin this is Max himself, so just like Hamilton in many previous races this should be 25(26) points in the bag, that is the expectation.

  10. 1 stop race, no overtaking, results decided by luck with safety car or red flags.

    Yay for old-school tracks.. /irony

Comments are closed.