F1 – Dutch GP – Race
Hallo, MiniFans! After yesterday’s extremely close qualifying session, in which Verstappen came out on top once again, even if just barely, today’s race might as well be the last nail in Ferrari’s coffin for their championship hopes, if they, once again, lose out to Verstappen and Red Bull, who seem to be on a roll and will not go down without a fight in the home race of the current world champion.
A small caress between Sainz and Hamilton was the only thing that could be classified as an incident during the start, after the seven-time world champion was a bit too optimistic in the first corner. A bit further along, Magnussen almost went into the wall after his Haas snapped, but was able to regain control without too much trouble and stay in the race.
After the first few laps, the race started to settle, but Hamilton, the only one in the top within DRS distance, began to put pressure on Sainz, but he wasn’t the only one, as Alonso soon overtook Gasly and Tsunoda in his pursuit of the point positions. The first stops came courtesy of those who had started on used softs, as the tyres were quickly giving up. This was when disaster struck Ferrari for the first time. After calling Sainz to the pits, one of the tyres wasn’t ready, so the stop was slow and forced Pérez to go over one of the tyre guns, as it had been left on the floor. Leclerc’s stop went better, but to add insult to injury, Verstappen was still out, telling his team his own wheels were alright. He’d stop on the next lap, copying the Monegasque’s strategy.
Both Mercedes, who had started on mediums, were still out, clearly betting it all at a one-stop strategy. Only three cars on track were sporting hards at this point, both Alpines and Norris, but they were keeping a more than decent pace with the slowest tyres. Back at the front, Verstappen only needed one try to go past Russell once he reached the rear of the younger Mercedes driver, soon starting to quickly chase Hamilton, who was called to pits immediately for what could be his only stop, in order to fit him with hards.
Pérez was now tasked to do what Russell hadn’t been able to do: try and fight off his team’s number one driver’s rival. The jokingly nicknamed “Mexican Minister of Defence” had a lot to live up to, as he’s shown before to be an incredible protector. He managed to keep him behind for one full lap, but the surprise would come as soon as Hamilton went past, as Vettel came out of the pits in that exact moment, slowing both of them down and making them lose a bit more time, ending up in an investigation. His next important job was testing out the hard tyres, in order to help the team make a decision on which one would end up fitted on Verstappen’s car.
The confusing moment of the race came courtesy of Tsunoda, who thought his tyres hadn’t been fitted correctly and stopped on the right side of the track. Teams waited for a possible virtual safety car or even a full one as the yellow flags were waved. However, the team told him to continue, but he was also called into the pits again for another set of tyres and to have his safety belts tightened, as he had loosened them when he had thought he’d have to retire. However, it didn’t end there. Once he was on the track again, he kept feeling something wrong with the rear of the car and, this time, he was told to stop the car, which did prompt the virtual safety car in order for the marshals to retrieve the car safely.
Everyone at the front who still had a stop left or had a free one, including Hamilton, who also hyped up and thanked his team over radio, stopped for new tyres for the twenty laps that were left after the VSC was called off.
It wouldn’t be the last time the race would be interrupted, as Bottas’ Alpha Romeo gave up on him on the straight, where there wasn’t an easily accessible escape route for the marshals to get hold of the car. The yellow flags came out immediately, Sainz overtook Ocon under them, but it wasn’t quite clear exactly when the overtake had happened. He was told by his team to give the position back but couldn’t, as the safety car had been deployed. One further incident in the pitlane put him even more under fire, as he almost collided into Alonso when exiting his pit stop and ended in a five-second penalty for an unsafe release.
Red Bull quickly called Verstappen in for softs, losing two places but having a quicker tyre for the ten-lap sprint that would take place when the race restarted. In a surprise move, Mercedes used the opportunity of the train of cars passing once through the pitlane as the Alpha Romeo was getting whisked away to give Russell soft tyres in exchange for the position with Verstappen, but not Hamilton, who was still sporting mediums. The safety car had barely left when Verstappen took advantage of his softs and easily overtook Hamilton, whose own teammate was now going past him as well.
Hamilton went from being among the favourites for the win, thanks to Mercedes’ bet on a one-stop strategy, to quickly dropping to fourth, as everyone else, save for Pérez, had softer tyres. The podium slipped away from the British driver, and Leclerc climbed on it, accompanying Verstappen and Russell on Zandvoort’s top steps.
Looking at the winner, it may seem as if it was merely a cruise for him, but it couldn’t be further away from reality. Verstappen started and finished in first, and the first part of the race only left the small doubt of whether the Mercedes bet of doing just one stop would pay off or not. Two stopped cars were translated into a VSC and a safety car, dropping Verstappen back into the fight for the win, in part thanks to Red Bull’s quick and accurate strategy calls, but above all, the something extra that seems to have made an appearance thanks to being the current world champion.