F1 – Dutch GP – Qualifying

Hallo, MiniFans! It’s been a while since we’ve visited the Netherlands but we’re finally back in Max Verstappen’s land. We’re back in Zaandvort, thirty-six years after Niki Lauda became the last winner of the Dutch GP up until now. The bad news of the weekend, especially after the announcement of his retirement, is Raikkonen’s withdrawal from the Grand Prix. This is due to testing positive for Covid, bumping Alfa Romeo’s reserve driver Robert Kubica into his seat.

Despite this track not having been used for over thirty years in the big circus, only four drivers on the grid have never raced in it, as lower classes have kept using it for their championships. However, due to the amount of lost time in free practices with the amount of red flags displayed, most went out pretty early in Q1 to try and not get caught in another one. Even Sainz, whose car was being worked on up until the lights turned green after having caused one a red flag in FP3, was out on the track very soon. Traffic didn’t prove to be as big of a problem as it had looked like in the first free practice, when cars could be seen going three wide at some points of the track.

The surface of the circuit improved ever lap, so cars kept pulling laps in until the time ran out. This was easily proven by Giovinazzi, managing the fourth best time in his last attempt and scoring the fastest first sector. It was in these last laps that it was obvious how tricky navigating traffic can be, as Vettel narrowly avoided crashing into both Haas, who were finding their space without checking who was coming behind, and prompted an investigation. The big surprise came from Pérez, who didn’t manage to make the cut, but his radio messages relayed that traffic had played a part. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Pérez (P16), Vettel (P17), Kubica (P18), Schumacher (P19) and Mazepin (P20).

The first car out in Q2 was Verstappen, under the roaring adoration of his fans. Thanks to the track improvement, everyone started off with soft tyres, leaving the mediums for when the conditions would be even better.  Being seven tenths off Verstappen’s time, it remained to see whether Mercedes would risk a harder tyre to try and start with them on Sunday. There was one free spot in Q3, due to Pérez not having made it through, and Giovinazzi sat on it for most of the session. With barely four minutes left, Russell created the first red flag in qualifying, losing his rear in the last corner and impacting into the barriers, but managing to get his car out, aided by the downward slope and the grass his back tyres had managed to finish on. The replays showed the quality of track marshals present in the circuit, as the crane, similar to those in Monaco, was getting ready to lift the car even before it had started moving.

Unlike free practices, the red flag during qualifying does stop the timer, giving everyone more than enough time to slot in at least one more lap. Mercedes went out with soft tyres, showing that the massive difference with Verstappen was worrying and not trusting being able to make it with mediums, but the session was cut short again by the other Williams crashing and it was announced that it would not be resumed, despite there being barely enough time for one last lap to be set by the first ones out. The damage to Latifi’s car, whose crash was faster and harder than his teammate’s, didn’t allow him to re-enter the track, leaving it to the marshals to retrieve his car. This refusal to finish the session meant that Giovinazzi had made it through to Q3, while the roles in McLaren changed and it was Ricciardo making it, while Norris had to settle for being thirteenth. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Russell (P11), Stroll (P12), Norris (P13), Latifi (P14) and Tsunoda (P15).

Q3 was slightly delayed by the need of fixing the Techpro barriers damaged in Latifi’s crash and the wait was entertained by Red Bull, claiming Mercedes was keeping the blankets on for longer than allowed with the excuse of looking for a free spot on the track. Once everything was in its place, the fight for pole position was on. It didn’t look too difficult when Verstappen made his first lap, under a minute and nine seconds, only truly settling in when three tenths set him apart from both Mercedes. With one more stint to go, his time seemed unreachable by anyone else that wasn’t him. His last lamp improved his time, but Mercedes still couldn’t beat the man that raced in his home country despite Hamilton improving his time with whatever little he had been able to hide away from the others. Behind them, the big surprise was Giovinazzi, who slotted himself in seventh, right in between the Ferraris and the Alpines, leaving Ricciardo to close the top ten.

The qualifying session went mostly as expected, with Verstappen cleanly and clearly topping the time sheets every time he went out. Zaandvort almost collapsed when their fellow countryman confirmed his pole position. He has been untouchable the whole weekend and it seems as if tomorrow will yield the same result, but we will need to wait and see.