Lando Norris, McLaren, Zandvoort, 2023

Close Friday times indicate Red Bull face a fight for pole

2023 Dutch Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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The first day of practice at the end of the summer break is always one of the most fascinating of any F1 season.

Inevitably, the biggest question was always going to be whether anyone had managed to gain back ground against the dominant Red Bulls – especially as they had been, quite literally, a mile ahead of the rest of the field at the end of the last round at Spa-Francorchamps.

But at the end of Friday at Zandvoort, it was not the world champion who was quickest, nor his Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez. Instead, Lando Norris put McLaren at the top of the times after a frantic second session, relegating the local hero to second place – albeit just two-hundredths of a second behind.

Sandwiched between two of the fastest circuits on the calendar – Spa and Monza – Zandvoort shares little of the characteristics of those other two historic F1 staples. It is an intensely compact circuit, with a narrow track, lap times lasting just over 70 seconds and barely any straights to allow drivers to rest between turns. Calling for high downforce set up to get the car through the many twists and turns as rapidly as possible, Zandvoort may well be helping to hide some of the remaining weaknesses of the MCL60.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Zandvoort, 2023
Verstappen was one of several drivers to have an off
“It was a reasonable day,” said Norris. “A nice way to end, in terms of position.

“I think we got in a good rhythm and found a reasonable balance with the car. We’re looking good on low fuel, but we’ve got a bit of work to do on high fuel, so that’s our target tonight.”

In the Red Bull, Verstappen had some complaints about the balance of his car being “weird” – but that is hardly a rare occurrence during the opening days of a race weekend this season. What was interesting about how close his and Norris’s best laps during the second session was where the two drivers varied through the lap.

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Norris was a tenth faster than the Red Bull through the opening sector of their fastest push laps, until Verstappen gained that back through the middle sector by carrying more speed that the McLaren through the consecutive sequence of turns. But from the tight left-hander of turn 11 through to the end of the lap, Norris had the edge – a striking demonstration of the differences in the two cars.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Zandvoort, 2023
Hamilton showed Mercedes have potential
“I think they look quick,” Verstappen admitted when asked about the McLaren. “On any tyre.

“For sure we know that, in qualifying especially, a few teams can fight us sometimes – and we’ll find out tomorrow.”

Lewis Hamilton took fourth behind, surprisingly, the Williams of Alexander Albon. But Mercedes have good reason to feel happy with where they stand. Hamilton admitted the team’s set-up changes for the second session had not worked out in their favour, but his demeanour was far brighter than the last Friday at a high-downforce circuit – the Hungaroring – where he ended the first day down in 16th before taking pole position 24 hours later. Asked where he saw Mercedes compared to Red Bull and McLaren on Saturday, Hamilton replied “right with them, hopefully.”

“I think the Red Bull’s a little bit quick as always,” Hamilton said, “so I don’t necessarily anticipate we’ll easily be able to beat them. But I think we’re going to be close.”

Hamilton’s team mate George Russell pointed out that Mercedes took the fight to Verstappen in the race here last year but had not been very far up the grid in doing so. With overtaking limited around the narrow and twisty circuit, Russell is eager to ensure Mercedes start from a stronger position on Sunday.

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“We need to make sure we seal a good result – ideally in the top five, he said. “That will set us up really nicely for Sunday, because we know we’ve got a faster race car.”

Ferrari lack pace in high-downforce trim, says Sainz
While McLaren and Mercedes seem bullish, Aston Martin and Ferrari were both conspicuous by their absence from the top of the times. Lance Stroll, who missed first practice with a power unit problem, was the highest placed of the four in eighth. Both Ferrari drivers finished outside of the top ten. Charles Leclerc admitted his team’s Friday had been “not great”.

“We’ve had quite a few difficulties,” he accepted. “FP1 was really difficult, FP2 went in the right direction but we still need to do a step forward for tomorrow.

“Having said that, everybody is so close that if you improve from two, three tenths, we are basically third or fourth or something like this.”

Team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr saw a pattern when thinking back to the last time the team fitted its high-downforce configuration for a race weekend.

“When we go to higher-downforce tracks, for some reason we don’t pick up as much downforce as maybe the others when we’re going to the bigger real wings,” Sainz explained. “And now we need to find out and we are trying to find out why. So a bit of homework to do on our side to see why when we go to these higher-downforce tracks we seem to slide more than the others.”

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Norris is eyeing a second career pole position
Qualifying sessions have been historically tight throughout 2023 so far, but with the top 16 cars on Friday separated by less than eight tenths of a second that could be especially true this weekend. While Red Bull have been unbeatable on Sundays, they have been far from untouchable in qualifying.

But throw in an increased traffic hazard around such a short and narrow circuit where grass and gravel traps await any mistake and the potential for rain to even affect things further, none of the tens of thousands of Verstappen fans who flock to the circuit should expect an easy third home pole for the world champion.

“I think it’s going to be very close come tomorrow,” Norris said.

“It’s a short track – what, 1’12, 1’11?. It’ll probably be 1’10s or something tomorrow. So it’s going to be very tight, but between many people. You have the Williams there, Alpine are there, AlphaTauris are there – so it’s just going to be a scrap.”

“It’s gonna be tough, but we can stay there. Just no mistakes.”

Combined practice times

PositionNumberDriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
14Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’12.4601’11.33051
21Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’11.8521’11.3530.02355
323Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’12.4471’11.5990.26955
444Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’12.2251’11.6380.30850
522Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’12.7491’11.7200.39051
610Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’12.8951’11.7660.43658
711Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’12.3231’11.8170.48755
818Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesNo time1’11.8350.50533
977Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’13.4481’11.8570.52759
1014Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’12.1301’11.8630.53352
1116Charles LeclercFerrari1’13.5191’11.9150.58554
122Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’12.6171’11.9340.60460
1331Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’12.8021’12.0010.67157
1463George RussellMercedes1’12.8131’12.0090.67950
1524Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’13.8261’12.0740.74449
1655Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’12.0930.76331
1720Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’13.3221’12.4041.07456
1881Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’12.6581’12.9011.32825
1927Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’14.0231’12.6931.36344
203Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’12.9901’13.0961.66032
2139Robert ShwartzmanFerrari1’14.8033.47324

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Teams’ progress vs 2022

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2023 Dutch Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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9 comments on “Close Friday times indicate Red Bull face a fight for pole”

  1. I respectfully disagree. The numbers mean nothing unless every team was in qualifying mode during the 2nd session and I am guessing they were not.

    1. @jimfromus quite – it’s reminiscent of the article that was produced based on the Friday practice session at Belgium, which speculated over a closer race there, and we all saw how easy it was for Max in the end.

    2. And even if there is a fight for pole, it’s unlikely there will be in the race

  2. Regardless of one lap quali pace, we’ve seen the Red Bull is a different beast in the race. Anyone can start ahead of them but once DRS is enabled it’s going to be Red Bull taking the lead.

  3. Doubtful

  4. We will see the quali times which are probably more true and informative. But what a change in the Team’s progress graph from the early races this season, when AM was shaving a lot of time from previous years registers. Now only Williams shaves a bit, and AM loses like most teams (and just what happened to the Scuderia??)

    1. @melanos:
      Well, Ferrari know exactly what is wrong with their car

      1. LOL
        I don’t quite believe the major problem is in the car, though ;)

  5. Makes a mistake at the first turn and the car is still half a second quicker, some “fight for pole”. Another snooze fest unless he’s slow away like in Britain. Expect a 40 second gap by the end.

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