While Verstappen “drives away”, Norris can expect Russell to run him close

2023 Dutch Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Given that the tens of thousands of fans in attendance at the Zandvoort circuit likely pay their ticket money in the hopes of watching Max Verstappen be victorious, they’ve certainly had their money’s worth since the venue returned to the F1 calendar.

Across the two qualifying and two race sessions held at the track over the first two years of the modern Dutch Grand Prix, Verstappen has placed first every single time. On Saturday in 2023, the world champion kept his spotless record in competitive sessions at Zandvoort intact – and looks set to send his adoring fans home very happy after Sunday’s grand prix.

Given that so many of Red Bull’s rivals were quick to point out how the runaway championship leaders are far more beatable in qualifying than they are on Sundays, Verstappen’s pole margin of over half a second was far wider than most would have predicted heading into the second day of the weekend. McLaren had looked strong on Friday with Lando Norris setting the pace with the quickest lap of the day, two-hundredths quicker than Verstappen. And while no one at McLaren was entertaining the idea of potentially fighting for victory just yet, being in with a shout for pole position seemed a much more achievable goal.

When it all came down to a last-lap shoot-out at the end of Q3 on a drying track, Norris was a comfortable second faster than any other driver – except for Verstappen. Despite an error at Tarzan which left Verstappen almost two tenths behind Norris by the time the pair exited turn three, the Red Bull driver’s superior speed through the corners and along the straights allowed him to blitz the McLaren by over half a second by the time they reached the end of the lap.

“My first half a lap was very good, my second half was pretty terrible,” Norris admitted after qualifying.

“I had a double-shift out of turn 10, which probably cost me a couple of tenths. But at the same time, nothing would have got me enough to get past Max. He did a good job. These conditions, you hope something might come your way and it didn’t today, but P2 was a good result for us.”

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As Zandvoort is such a narrow circuit with so many corners crammed into its relatively short length, overtaking opportunities are not as easy to come by compared to those that will be found next week in Monza. So with his third consecutive home pole position secured, Verstappen has already seen off what is likely the biggest threat to victory that he will face – especially with the relentless race pace of the Red Bull.

Friday’s second practice session saw teams logging an unusually high level of high fuel laps to prepare for the race. Unsurprisingly, Verstappen maintained the quickest pace over those long runs with an average lap time of 1’26.159, which was almost half a second a lap faster than any of his nearest rivals, including Norris. But while Verstappen and Norris completed runs on the soft tyres – with Norris also fitting the hard tyres later in the session – the Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell ran on mediums, with both matching Norris’s pace on the softs; around a 1’26.5.

Perhaps more intriguingly, the Mercedes were also able to match Sergio Perez’s performance on the same compound, with Hamilton slightly ahead of the second Red Bull driver through their stints. Frustratingly for Mercedes, Hamilton is almost certain not to factor in the fight at the front after qualifying down in 13th place on the grid, but Russell will be directly behind Norris in third – and Russell intends to get ahead of the McLaren on Sunday.

“To end up P3 in those conditions, I was very happy,” he said. “But we know we have a faster car on Sunday so starting third is a great spot.

“I don’t think we’ll have the pace to fight with Max. As Lando said, he’s a bit of a league of his own at the moment, but I’m confident Lando and I can have a good fight.”

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The order behind Red Bull has varied regularly in 2023, but for the first time this season Williams appear to look genuinely stronger than the likes of Aston Martin and even Ferrari. Alexander Albon will start fourth on the grid – the team’s highest starting position since George Russell lined up third for the 2021 Russian Grand Prix. Albon has been the best defensive driver on the grid since returning to the sport last season, but even he does not see himself emulating his famous drive to seventh in the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday.

“We are not top of the speed traps – we haven’t been at all this weekend,” Albon accepted. “We’ve actually been very, very mid-field. We can’t ‘do a Canada’ – we have to be quick on pure pace, or else we will get overtaken.”

After a wet day of running on Saturday, drivers should be in for a dry race tomorrow – even if the risk of rain has not fully evaporated. With overcast skies, Sunday’s race should also be cooler than the two previous encounters at the revised Zandvoort.

Pirelli claim that “several options” are available for strategy in the race. But with the lack of clear overtaking opportunities outside of the DRS zone along the pit straight heading into Tarzan, track position is especially critical. That will encourage many to lean towards one-stop strategies, likely starting on the mediums before switching to the hard tyres, but for those like Hamilton who will be looking to make their way through the field with what should be a faster race car than those around them, being more aggressive might be a viable option.

As already seen this weekend, Zandvoort can be a punishing circuit for drivers who make mistakes. With grass and gravel traps waiting to catch out drivers who fall even the slightest bit wide over the 14 corners, little room to go side-by-side and not a lot of space to pull off if you have a problem, there’s a high chance of a Safety Car being triggered suddenly at any time during the race, which could have a considerable impact on tomorrow’s race, just as happened last season.

But while it’s likely to be a frantic Dutch Grand Prix with the field seemingly so close once again, Norris is fairly confident that he knows how the fight for the victory will pan out.

“I’ll challenge him probably two laps, then he’ll drive away,” he said.

“I’m not going to say no, like I’m not going to give it a try, but Max is always on another level when it comes to Sunday, in tyre degradation and race pace. So, there’s opportunities, but it’s going to be tough.”

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Qualifying times in full

PositionNumberDriverTeamQ1 timeQ2 time (vs Q1)Q3 time (vs Q2)
11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’20.9651’18.856 (-2.109s)1’10.567 (-8.289s)
24Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’21.2761’19.769 (-1.507s)1’11.104 (-8.665s)
363George RussellMercedes1’21.3451’19.620 (-1.725s)1’11.294 (-8.326s)
423Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’20.9391’19.399 (-1.540s)1’11.419 (-7.980s)
514Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’21.8401’19.429 (-2.411s)1’11.506 (-7.923s)
655Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’21.3211’19.929 (-1.392s)1’11.754 (-8.175s)
711Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’21.9721’19.856 (-2.116s)1’11.880 (-7.976s)
881Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’21.2311’19.392 (-1.839s)1’11.938 (-7.454s)
916Charles LeclercFerrari1’22.0191’19.600 (-2.419s)1’12.665 (-6.935s)
102Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’22.0361’20.067 (-1.969s)1’16.748 (-3.319s)
1118Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’21.5701’20.121 (-1.449s)Missed by 0.054s
1210Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’21.7351’20.128 (-1.607s)Missed by 0.061s
1344Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’21.9191’20.151 (-1.768s)Missed by 0.084s
1422Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’21.7811’20.230 (-1.551s)Missed by 0.163s
1527Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’21.8911’20.250 (-1.641s)Missed by 0.183s
1624Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’22.067Missed by 0.031s
1731Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’22.110Missed by 0.074s
1820Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’22.192Missed by 0.156s
1977Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’22.260Missed by 0.224s
2040Liam LawsonAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’23.420Missed by 1.384s

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Sector times

PositionNumberDriverSector oneSector twoSector threeUltimate lapDeficit to ultimate lap
11Max Verstappen24.324 (2)24.504 (1)21.739 (1)1’10.567
24Lando Norris24.287 (1)24.818 (3)21.943 (3)1’11.0480.056
363George Russell24.649 (5)24.625 (2)22.02 (6)1’11.294
423Alexander Albon24.449 (3)25.014 (6)21.956 (4)1’11.419
514Fernando Alonso24.63 (4)24.994 (4)21.882 (2)1’11.506
655Carlos Sainz Jnr24.693 (7)25.035 (7)22.026 (7)1’11.754
711Sergio Perez24.895 (8)24.996 (5)21.989 (5)1’11.880
881Oscar Piastri24.657 (6)25.047 (8)22.179 (8)1’11.8830.055
916Charles Leclerc24.999 (9)25.086 (9)22.393 (9)1’12.4780.187
102Logan Sargeant27.083 (10)26.472 (10)23.193 (10)1’16.748
1122Yuki Tsunoda27.764 (14)27.244 (11)25.006 (13)1’20.0140.216
1218Lance Stroll27.743 (13)27.406 (13)24.957 (12)1’20.1060.015
1310Pierre Gasly27.411 (11)27.586 (15)25.123 (14)1’20.1200.008
1444Lewis Hamilton27.416 (12)27.366 (12)25.369 (15)1’20.151
1527Nico Hulkenberg28.046 (15)27.465 (14)24.739 (11)1’20.250
1624Zhou Guanyu28.282 (17)27.591 (16)25.807 (19)1’21.6800.387
1731Esteban Ocon28.265 (16)28.164 (18)25.667 (17)1’22.0960.014
1820Kevin Magnussen28.484 (18)28.206 (19)25.464 (16)1’22.1540.038
1977Valtteri Bottas28.629 (20)27.829 (17)25.752 (18)1’22.2100.050
2040Liam Lawson28.601 (19)28.57 (20)26.015 (20)1’23.1860.234

Speed trap

PositionNumberDriverCarEngineModelMax kph (mph)
116Charles LeclercFerrariFerrariSF-23328.6 (204.2)
21Max VerstappenRed BullHonda RBPTRB19327.0 (203.2)
355Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrariSF-23326.7 (203.0)
411Sergio PerezRed BullHonda RBPTRB19326.1 (202.6)
52Logan SargeantWilliamsMercedesFW45322.3 (200.3)
614Fernando AlonsoAston MartinMercedesAMR23322.2 (200.2)
723Alexander AlbonWilliamsMercedesFW45321.7 (199.9)
881Oscar PiastriMcLarenMercedesMCL60320.6 (199.2)
94Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedesMCL60319.7 (198.7)
1063George RussellMercedesMercedesW14318.3 (197.8)
1110Pierre GaslyAlpineRenaultA523299.4 (186.0)
1218Lance StrollAston MartinMercedesAMR23298.4 (185.4)
1322Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04298.1 (185.2)
1477Valtteri BottasAlfa RomeoFerrariC43296.0 (183.9)
1544Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedesW14295.2 (183.4)
1627Nico HulkenbergHaasFerrariVF-23292.5 (181.8)
1720Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrariVF-23291.1 (180.9)
1831Esteban OconAlpineRenaultA523286.9 (178.3)
1940Liam LawsonAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04285.7 (177.5)
2024Zhou GuanyuAlfa RomeoFerrariC43282.5 (175.5)

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Over to you

Is there any realistic scenario in which Verstappen will not score a third consecutive win at home? And who will come out on top in the much less predictable fight for second place?

Share your views on the Dutch Grand Prix in the comments.

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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15 comments on “While Verstappen “drives away”, Norris can expect Russell to run him close”

  1. I’m possibly (probably) misreading things, or am otherwise confused with regard to what I previously understood about the Williams, but I am rather surprised that Albon is lower down in the ‘Speed Trap’ times than he is in qualification position.

    1. Setup choice

    2. The straights aren’t long enough for Williams top-speed ‘advantage’ to become evident at this track.
      As a result of the track having so many low speed corners, high downforce isn’t such a massive benefit either. Slower corners put more focus on mechanical grip rather than aero grip, of course….

      Clearly, the car is good (here, at least) with driveability and traction off slow corners, and not terrible in the mid-corner either.

  2. Is there any realistic scenario in which Verstappen will not score a third consecutive win at home?
    – No unless he suffers a DNF, DNS, puncture, performance-affecting damage, or as an extreme, something in the car causes a DSQ.
    And who will come out on top in the much less predictable fight for second place?
    – Checo, Lando, or George.

    1. Puncture would be most interesting for verstappen, so we’d see how far he can get with a healthy car and a massive gap behind, a bit like what happened in monza 2020 with hamilton’s stop and go.

  3. Good to hear Wolff being surprised over the gap between Max and Checo (naming the latter a good driver) and acknowledge the extraordinary performance being displayed by a remarkable talent.

  4. Weather could be an important factor. Around race start and finish there could be some pretty heavy showers.

    1. Would be nice if that rain came true, there’s been quite some rain in competitive sessions lately but not really in the main races, apart from monaco.

  5. Is there any realistic scenario in which Verstappen will not score a third consecutive win at home?

    Yes, for Norris to get a good start and race Verstappen as though it’s his only chance of a win this year. Channel that inner Senna.

  6. How is the Red Bull quicker in the corners and the straights? How is Perez so poor?

    1. That’s generally what happens when you have a dominant car, pretty sure mercedes was like that too at least in 2014-2016, and perez is really really bad in changing conditions, he’s often 1-2 sec off verstappen when there’s some rain or a drying track.

      1. I’ve never known a car that can defy the laws of physics.

        Verstappen was half a second quicker despite making two mistakes, Perez is just awful, the last session was pretty much dry as well.

    2. Verstappen’s Red Bull is quicker because it’s Verstappen’s Red Bull being driven by Verstappen.
      Perez’s Red Bull is slower because it’s Verstappen’s Red Bull being driven by Perez. Perez isn’t poor, he’s just not comfortable in the car – it’s designed to exploit someone else’s driving style and not his.

  7. Weather forecasts are crazy, I’ve seen 90% chance of rain on one and 20% on another.

    1. It’s really on and off today. We’ve been running inside, go out in the sun and hurry back inside for a thunderstorm in the space of 20 minutes.

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