F1 – Dutch GP – Race

Hallo, MiniFans! Zaandvort is hosting its first Dutch GP since 1985 and it has dressed up for the occasion. All grandstands are fully covered in neon orange, determined to cheer on Max Verstappen, who could recover the lead of the championship in his first proper home race. The first part of the homework was done yesterday, with a pole position that got the whole track roaring in delight, but the second is still pending.

With the top ten starting on soft tyres, it was surprising to see so many of those out of the top ten as well, with only a handful of drivers starting with mediums and just one, Pérez, betting on the hards and mayhem to escape his pit lane start. The first lap was unusually clean for such a narrow circuit that saw cars even three wide in an attempt to climb up the timing tower. Verstappen managed to open up a sizeable gap to Hamilton, while Russell reported oil and smoke leaving Ricciardo’s car that wouldn’t amount to any problems afterwards. A few scuffs went on at different points of the track, with small collisions between front wings and rear tyres that didn’t seem to create many issues. Pérez, still at the back and only in front of Latifi, who started behind him, and Schumacher, who had stopped for new tyres, was seemingly having problems and not being able to overtake Mazepin, even blocking his front left tyre and waiting a couple of laps until finally pitting due to excessive vibrations.

Over the radio, Norris said what could be clearly seen: Having clean air meant vastly superior lap times, but he was told to wait for his moment. Who couldn’t wait too much was Hamilton, claiming he was on the limit of the tyres and stopping for mediums. His stop was slow, but it showed the power an undercut could have when Red Bull copied the strategy. Despite the energy drink team doing a way faster stop, their gap to Hamilton was reduced to under two seconds. Mercedes lengthened Bottas’ first stint and their exchanged messages on radio only confirmed that he would do a one-stop strategy to try and retain Verstappen at the end of the race. Red Bull caught on and communicated to their driver how critical it would be to catch and overtake the Finnish man.

The battle for the win became what it has been for a while now. Two Mercedes, one of them willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the team, against one lone Red Bull. Verstappen pulled a beautiful overtake over Bottas in the DRS zone, only for Hamilton to find his path empty when it was his turn to pass his teammate. The ones giving a try to a one-stop strategy stopped alongside Bottas, who was soon in Verstappen’s pit window and almost collided into Vettel after the German spun in turn 3. In lap 40, Mercedes went for the second stop to try and pull off the undercut they couldn’t in the first stop, but the traffic they released Hamilton in meant that they lost time to Verstappen, who stopped one lap later and pulled off both a faster in lap and stop.

Hamilton’s radio started going wild with his messages complaining about his team’s decision to pit him with more than thirty laps to go when his current tyres were doing well. He went into panic mode, berating his team for their choice and complaining about his tyres not being able to make it to the end, but soon after pulling the fastest lap of the race. On the other side of the fence, where Hamilton clearly saw the greener grass, was Verstappen. Red Bull had replied to their stunt with not only a faster stop, but also tyres thought out to last to the end of the race easily, rather than the one that might give an edge on the out lap. However, he was the only one with white rimmed tyres, alongside Leclerc, who wasn’t struggling with them.

Mercedes pitted Bottas with four laps to go, who had enough of a gap to Gasly in fourth, and was told very plainly that they would not go for fastest lap in order to leave a gap for Hamilton. He was not told that it was to let Hamilton have it, but it was very much implied. He received a message by James, the strategist, to abort his fastest lap attempt, but Bottas refused to do so, painting all his sectors in purple. Hamilton still stopped with two laps to go, not giving Verstappen space to do the same thing himself, and barely managed to score the fastest lap point while the track was already inundated in orange smoke from a grandstand that was celebrating the win of the only Dutch driver who has ever won a Grand Prix.

Red flags have been aplenty this weekend, but the race seemingly didn’t get the memo from the free practices and the qualifying. Some had bet their entire race on it, such as Pérez with his hard tyre start, because the track serves itself for such an event: it is narrow, has banked corners and barely anything that’s not gravel or grass on the outside of the racing track. Despite this, the only retirements happened by teams asking their drivers to return to boxes. The rest did go as planned: Verstappen reigned in his home track, closely followed by Hamilton, who couldn’t do anything to prevent it, as they were outsmarted in strategy by Red Bull, and regained the lead of the world championship.