F1 – Dutch GP – Qualifying

Hallo, MiniFans! We’re back from the summer break with a bit of a shock, as the rain and cold have come down on Zandvoort, contrasting the heatwaves that have recently been suffocating Europe. However, this wasn’t the only surprise. A second one came from Daniel Ricciardo, who broke his hand in an attempt not to crash into Piastri and instead hitting the wall. His substitute will be Liam Lawson, one of Red Bull Academy’s most notable names.

Despite the tricky conditions, which had stopped the F2 race earlier, drivers were eager to get on track as soon as possible in Q1, due to the storm threats looming over the circuit. Intermediate tyres were fitted and the cars were hitting the track when the light turned green, looking to get at least one lap in the bag just in case.

The green tyres were proving to be a handful when combined with the changing grip, as even Verstappen was seen going wide in turn one, and thus kickstarting the deleted lap messages. McLaren and Williams were the first to settle at the top, but Red Bull and Ferrari soon took up the challenge, as did Mercedes. The drivers were slowly but surely finding their groove, lowering times thanks to the improving track and not letting the timing tower rest.

Unlike what we usually see, the cars barely spent any time in the pit lane in this first session, only passing by for a quick tyre change. While most of the midfield was comfortably safe, Ferrari had their drives in the elimination zone when light rain started to be reported in some parts of the circuit. Sainz quickly clocked in a good lap, but Leclerc needed a bit more time to barely make it out. In his return to the pitlane after the checkered flag came out, it was clear he wasn’t happy with his team’s management of the traffic and the tyre temperature. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Zhou (P16), Ocon (P17), Magnussen (P18), Bottas (P19) and Lawson (P20).

The start to Q2 was very similar to Q1. With the weather radars showing heavy rain heading to the track, there was a race to get a place on the pitlane queue, as drivers once again wanted to get a lap in as soon as possible just in case. In this instance, however, Verstappen did not let anyone climb into first place, scoring the position for himself and managing a decent gap to Russell at first, and lowering his time by more than a second in his following attempt. The possibility of rain seemed to get scarcer by the second, which added to the heavy winds helped to start drying the track and seeing hits of the start to a dry lane.

With the sun now shining on Zandvoort and the cars going for the whole session, the dry lane was created very quickly, which left the question of whether anyone would try to risk a dry tyre, but it seemed like the cold was still a big factor and no one did, as the times were still coming down with intermediates. Places were still being exchanged and Ferrari was still in trouble, with both their drivers in the elimination zone and having only one or two laps to fix their previous mistakes. They eventually managed it again, but not without effort and being one of the culprits of Hamilton’s downfall. The final lap allowed Sargeant to squeeze in by half a tenth, pushing Stroll out and doubling the Williams presence in Q3. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Stroll (P11), Gasly (P12), Hamilton (P13), Tsunoda (P14) and Hulkenberg (P15).

What was seen as too much of a risk in Q2 was an actual possibility in Q3, and a few drivers left the pitlane with soft tyres on. Those on inters soon realised that it wasn’t the best choice, as the dry lane was all over the track, and promptly did exchange them for softs as well. Their first taste of the new conditions didn’t last long, though, and Sargeant crashing in turn 2 didn’t let them fully try them. A long-lasting red flag came out to retire the car and repair the barriers with eight minutes left on the clock.

The dry lane had expanded during the intermission, providing the drivers with an easier track to manage. The first attempts were a bit cautious, testing the track, and Verstappen was not able to beat the McLarens in his first attempt, but a second red flag, this time as a reaction to Leclerc crashing out, stopped Q3 once again, this time with four minutes left.

This last attempt started in a calmer fashion, as there was only one chance at a lap left anyway, the main concerns being traffic and flags. Verstappen was scoring purple sectors, but Norris, a handful of seconds behind, stole the first one away from him, but he couldn’t keep up and had to satisfy himself with second place behind the local driver, as Russell and Albon stole third away from Alonso, who had only had this last chance at a good time, the other attempts being interrupted by the flags.

From not quite knowing whether the session could fully go as planned, as the F2 race had been suspended due to the rain and lack of visibility, to a beautiful atmosphere with the sun shining, qualifying still went mostly as expected. Hamilton did not make it to Q3 while Sargeant did, but there weren’t any more true surprises, and neither was there on the pole position spot, occupied once again by Verstappen, who’d also once again be accompanied by someone other than his teammate, but attention focused on Albon, who had managed to get his Williams into fourth and presented his candidacy for a good result on Sunday.

MiniDrivers – F1
2023 Dutch GP