The Dutch Grand Prix last appeared in the 1985 F1 Season. Circuit Zandvoort, since then, went through a series of upgrades and improvements but never got a place on the F1 calendar again.
The arrival of Max Verstappen, the next big star of the sport, had the Oranje Army travelling all over Europe, and the time was nigh for a home race.
The FIA and FOM heeded the pleas, and the Dutch GP announced its return in the 2020 Season. Zandvoort finally had the facilities to get classified as "F1 spec". However, the onset of the Pandemic COVID-19 put a spanner in the works, and the race got cancelled in 2020.
However, the circuit finally debuted in the turbo era as round 13 in the 2021 season. Circuit Zandvoort, built by the same designer who made the Suzuka Circuit in Japan, is famous for the steep bankings at turns three, thirteen and fourteen. A fast-flowing, old-school track with big gravel traps, Zandvoort is unique. The narrow nature of the circuit makes overtaking a challenge.
Leading up to the Grand Prix, Kimi Raikkonen announced his retirement from the sport. The Flying Finn had had his fill of the sport and desired to move onto better things in life after 2021. A flurry of farewell messages poured in from across the world. A tribute on my blog will get published at the opportune time.
Inclement weather played spoilsport on Sunday at Spa-Francorchamps the previous weekend, and the fans yearned for a proper race in the Netherlands.
Hamilton knew that he would get a frosty reception at Verstappen's home race. Only 3 points separated the two drivers going into the weekend, and the battle for the Constructors was closer than ever.
Who reigned supreme on the shores of the North Sea?
Time for a recap of the Dutch GP!
Technical issues with FIA Safety Systems delayed the start of FP1 and FP2.
Tsunoda, who hadn't raced at Zandvoort before, suffered a spin after exiting the pits at the start of FP1. His teammate Gasly narrowly missed hitting the wall while Ocon had an offtrack excursion in his Alpine.
It was a problematic morning for Vettel, who first reported an MGU-K issue. After a quick fix in the pits, the German returned to the track, but as he began his timed lap, smoke billowed from the back of his engine. Aston Martin instructed Vettel to come to an immediate stop. The German helped the marshalls in dousing the flames, but the vehicle couldn't get extricated since the green light was active on the car ( electrically live ). When the car finally got towed, 37 minutes of the one-hour session had passed. It was an engine failure for Vettel and Aston Martin.
Eventually, the track was clear with six minutes remaining, and all the drivers rushed to gather as much data as possible. Norris went over a gravel trap, and then on another lap, almost got pushed off the track when Ocon cut across. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Ocon received a warning for his error.
Hamilton topped the timesheets at the end of FP1, nine-hundredths clear of home hero Verstappen. The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc were P3 and P4, followed by Bottas and the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon. Giovinazzi, Stroll and Gasly completed the top 10.
P11 was the best that Norris could manage from Latifi and Raikkonen. Ricciardo was P14 in the other McLaren, with Russell and Perez P15 and P16, respectively. The Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher, Vettel and Tsunoda, completed the back of the pack.
There was drama at the start of FP2, with Hamilton coming to a stop on track due to an oil pressure anomaly detected by Mercedes. The Briton would take no further part, and the session got red-flagged to extricate the car safely. Another Red Flag followed shortly after, with Mazepin getting stuck in the gravel at turn eleven.
The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz ended FP2 the quickest, with Ocon, Bottas, Verstappen and Alonso completing the top 6. Gasly was P7 in his Alpha Tauri, followed by Norris, Giovinazzi and Vettel.
Despite his session getting cut short, Hamilton set the 11th quickest time, ahead of Perez, Tsunoda and Stroll. Ricciardo was P15 in the other McLaren, followed by Raikkonen and Schumacher. Mazepin split the Williams of Latifi and Russell at the back of the field.
It was a compromised Friday for several drivers due to the frequent Red Flags in FP1 and FP2. The lack of high-fuel running left Hamilton at a disadvantage, and the Mercedes engines seemed to have chinks in their armour with breakdowns. The Ferraris looked competitive over one lap, and less than a second covered the top 10 in both sessions.
There was work to do for all the drivers in FP3.
Raikkonen tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday morning, which led to his withdrawal from the weekend. Alfa Romeo announced Robert Kubica, their reserve driver, as his replacement.
FP3 got underway, and the emphasis was on single-lap pace. While Vettel had a trip across the gravel at turn 10, Leclerc took to the runoff area at turn twelve. Norris and Schumacher too narrowly escaped from getting stuck in the gravel traps. However, Sainz lost the back of his Ferrari and clattered into the barriers at turn 3, bringing out the Red Flags. Thankfully, the Spaniard was unhurt, but the team faced a race against time to get the car ready for Qualifying.
Verstappen was the quickest at the end of the session, half a second clear of Bottas and Hamilton. Perez was P4 in the other Red Bull, with Alonso and Norris completing the top 6. The Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel were P7 and P8, followed by Leclerc and Gasly in P9 and P10, respectively.
Ricciardo was P11 in the other McLaren, while Ocon split the Williams of Latifi and Russell in P13. Giovinazzi set the 15th quickest time, followed by Sainz and Tsunoda. At the back of the pack, Kubica split the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher.
A clear track, along with optimal use of track evolution, would prove pivotal in the battle for Pole Position.
It was time for Qualifying, and Sainz's Ferrari was ready for battle after a quick repair job by the Ferrari mechanics.
Q1 got underway, and, barring the Mercedes duo, the rest of the field opted for the soft tyres. The cars got fueled for multiple runs and lap times improved with more rubber getting laid onto the race track.
At the end of the first runs, Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc and Alonso were the top 6 with Tsunoda, Sainz, Mazepin, Schumacher and Kubica facing elimination.
Ferrari informed Sainz that track evolution would make the lap times quicker by a second, and sure enough, the Spaniard improved to P8. Russell, in his Williams, was the next driver to move up to P5.
As the lap times kept improving for everyone, the Mercedes drivers also switched to the soft tyres for their final runs. Barring Verstappen, Gasly and Alonso, everyone else was on track to better their times.
Traffic was forming up in the last sector as the drivers jostled for track position. Perez was at the back of this queue and failed to start his final attempt before the clock ran out. Vettel, on a flying lap, got impeded by the Haas duo, especially Mazepin. The incident got flagged for investigation, but the stewards decided against penalizing the Russian.
Less than a second separated the top 16 at the end of Q1. Leclerc, Sainz, Verstappen, Giovinazzi, Latifi and Hamilton were the top 6, with Perez, Vettel, Kubica, Schumacher and Mazepin getting eliminated in Q1.
Softs were the tyres of choice for all the 15 drivers participating in Q2. Halfway through Q2, Verstappen, Leclerc, Gasly, Hamilton, Bottas and Ricciardo were the top 6, while Russell, Stroll, Norris, Latifi and Tsunoda were in the drop zone.
The Williams drivers decided to head out earlier than the rest of the field for their final run of Q2. Russell looked on course to break into the top 10 when he carried too much speed into turn 13. He got spun around and suffered an impact with the barriers on the rear of his car. The stewards Red Flagged the session, but the Briton managed to limp back to the pits for a damage assessment. Eventually, when the session restarted, Russell's Williams wasn't fit to take further part in Qualifying.
The final minutes of Q2 saw Leclerc and Giovinazzi stay put while the rest prepared to spar on the track for a place in Q3. Latifi, in the other Williams, was the first driver to start his flying lap but put a wheel on the grass at turn 8. The Canadian lost control of his Williams and rammed into the barriers, wrecking the rear of his car. The session got Red Flagged again, and the stewards announced that Q2 had ended!
Verstappen, Leclerc, Gasly, Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Sainz, Ocon, Alonso and Giovinazzi got through to Q3, while Russell, Stroll, Norris, Tsunoda and Latifi got eliminated.
Q3 got underway, and all ten drivers opted for a fresh set of soft tyres. The drivers wasted no time in setting a representative time. Verstappen went the quickest, three-tenths clear of Bottas and Hamilton at the end of the first run. Gasly, Leclerc and Sainz were into the top 6, with Giovinazzi going 8th quickest in his Alfa Romeo.
The drivers returned to the pits for refuelling and new tyres. It was time for the final battle for pole position. Verstappen failed to improve in the first sector but went quickest in the second. He eventually went faster than his first attempt. Meanwhile, the Mercedes drivers set their personal best sector times. Hamilton went the fastest of anybody in sector three but ended the lap second best, three hundredths shy of Verstappen's time. Bottas' best lap was three tenths slower than Verstappen's.
Verstappen bagged pole position at his home race! His title rival Hamilton was on the front row in P2, with Bottas P3 in the other Mercedes. Two stellar laps in Q3 saw Gasly bag P4, followed by an all-Ferrari third row in Leclerc and Sainz. Giovinazzi equalled his best Qualifying result in P7, beating the Alpines of Ocon and Alonso. Ricciardo completed the top 10.
Replays showed that Verstappen's rear wing failed to open when he hit the DRS button on the pit straight. The resulting failure cost him two-tenths on his final lap. It was a Qualifying masterclass by Verstappen in Zandvoort, in front of the Oranje Army. However, his teammate Perez qualified a dismal 16th after a tactical error denied him his final attempt in Q1. It would be a long Sunday afternoon for the Mexican as he hoped to make up places on a track with limited overtaking opportunities. Red Bull was at a disadvantage with Verstappen having to contend with both Mercedes alone on Sunday. As for Mercedes, Hamilton and Bottas were right up there with Verstappen. Mercedes could outscore its rivals in the Constructors' Championships, with Bottas playing the perfect support role as Hamilton locked horns with Verstappen. However, the breakdown on Friday showed that Mercedes had chinks in its armour.
Gasly, like every other weekend, was the shining star for Alpha Tauri. The Frenchman continued to impress and looked set for a sizeable haul of points on Sunday. As for Tsunoda, P15 was the best that the Japanese could achieve. Team Principal Franz Tost hoped to see Tsunoda break into the top 10 on Saturday, but the latter failed to match it. Tsunoda was fighting for his seat in 2022 and couldn't afford mediocrity on Sunday.
Ferrari-powered cars had looked strong on Friday, and the works team didn't disappoint come Qualifying. Despite the crash in FP3, the Ferrari mechanics got Sainz's car ready for Qualifying. Less than a hundredth of a second separated the Ferrari duo. The team had the opportunity of outscoring and retaking P3 from McLaren in the Constructor standings.
Antonio Giovinazzi was the revelation of Qualifying. The Italian equalled his best Qualifying performance in P7. With Raikkonen out of the race weekend due to COVID-19, the onus was on Giovinazzi to salvage some points. As for Kubica, who stepped in for Raikkonen for the remainder of the weekend, P18 was a commendable attempt in Qualifying. Although the lead built by Williams seemed insurmountable, Alfa Romeo needed to keep chipping away, and Giovinazzi was their best hope for Sunday.
Ocon and Alonso had been consistent in all practice sessions, with the team going through a resurgence since the past few races. Alpine hoped to outscore Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin on Sunday and further cement P5 in the Championship. As for the Aston Martin duo of Stroll and Vettel, it was a disappointing session. P12 and P17 were the best that Stroll and Vettel could achieve, and the possibility of getting into points-scoring positions on race day seemed bleak.
Daniel Ricciardo managed to outqualify teammate Norris for the second consecutive time. The Australian seemed to have found a solution for his troubles at McLaren. Meanwhile, Norris had a forgettable Saturday in P13 and faced a long Sunday afternoon. In a hotly contested battle for P3, McLaren faced an uphill task at maintaining its slim cushion of 4.5 points.
Russell and Latifi looked set for Q3 appearances when mistakes by both drivers cost them higher grid positions for the race. Latifi came off worse from the incidents, the rear of his Williams wrecked by the impact. Both drivers were apologetic towards the team but seemed to have the pace to recover some pride on Sunday. The struggles for Haas F1 continued, and once again, Schumacher managed to beat teammate Mazepin at the back of the field.
Race Strategy, combined with a clean opening lap, would pay dividends on Sunday. On a physically demanding circuit like Zandvoort, the drivers needed to maintain their focus throughout the race. One slip-up and the gravel traps would wreck their aspirations for the weekend.
Red Bull decided to change the power unit on Perez's car along with a new energy store. On a track where overtaking is difficult, it was a prudent decision to take up new components and serve the necessary penalties that came with it. As a result, the Mexican started the race from the pit lane.
Williams opted to change the front wing and nose assembly on Latifi's car to a different spec, resulting in a pit lane start for the Canadian.
The FIA issued a new directive for the race, considering the narrowness of the pit lane. The ruling was that a second car ( in the event of double stacking ) could block the pit box behind or end up hampering oncoming vehicles in the fast lane. Such an incident of impeding, if detected, would get referred to the stewards as an infringement.
Unlike Spa-Francorchamps, the sun was shining at Zandvoort. C1, C2 and C3 were the dry tyre compounds available for the race.
Outside the top 10, Russell, Norris, Kubica, Mazepin and Latifi opted for the mediums while Perez chose hard tyres for the start of the race.
The five red lights went out, and the Dutch GP got underway. It was a clean getaway for Verstappen off the line. Hamilton and Bottas held onto P2 and P3, respectively, but further down the field, Giovinazzi dropped back to P10 after hitting the back of Ocon's Alpine, who cut across the track. Alonso and Ocon were up to P7 and P8, while Perez got past Latifi for P19. Meanwhile, the Haas cars were sparring, and Mazepin almost put Schumacher into the wall, much to the German's displeasure.
Verstappen pulled away from Hamilton and was the fastest man on track, building a lead of 3 seconds. Ocon was pressuring Alonso for P7, but the Spaniard fended off the challenge. Schumacher switched to the hard tyres on lap 5, rejoining last.
Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Alonso, Ocon, Ricciardo and Giovinazzi were the top 10 at the end of lap 6.
Ocon complained to Alpine that Alonso was holding him up. Meanwhile, Perez suffered a massive lock-up into turn one while contending with Mazepin for P17 ( lap 7 ). The resulting flat spot on his tyres led to vibrations, and Red Bull instructed Perez to pit on lap 10. The Mexican switched to the mediums, rejoining in P19.
Ferrari informed Leclerc that they were switching to Plan B. Hamilton was the fastest man on track as Verstappen reached the milestone - 1000 race laps led on lap 10. Vettel pitted for the mediums on lap 11, rejoining in P18. Latifi got past Mazepin for P16, while Stroll pressured Russell for P11. Perez began his charge up the field with overtakes on Mazepin, Latifi and Kubica on laps 16, 19, and 21, respectively.
Hamilton was losing tyre performance and pitted for a fresh set of mediums on lap 21. It was 3.6 seconds stop due to an issue with the front right tyre. Verstappen followed suit, a lap later, and maintained his advantage on Hamilton.
Meanwhile, Perez got past Tsunoda for P14, while Vettel overtook Mazepin for P17. Gasly and Latifi pitted for mediums and hard tyres, respectively ( lap 25 ). While Gasly rejoined in P7, Latifi dropped down to P19. At the front, Hamilton had reduced the gap to Verstappen to only 1.2 seconds.
The first round of pit stops continued as Giovinazzi, Russell and Stroll pitted on lap 29. While Giovinazzi switched to the mediums, Russell and Stroll chose the hard tyres. Gasly got past Ocon for P6 on lap 28.
Bottas was yet to stop for fresh tyres, and Verstappen was closing in on him to reclaim the lead. Mercedes instructed Bottas to hold up Verstappen for as long as possible. The defence was short-lived as Verstappen retook the lead on lap 31, with Hamilton relegating his teammate to P3 a couple of corners later. Further down the field, Latifi got past Mazepin for P18.
A slew of pit stops followed, with Ricciardo switching to the hard tyres on lap 31 and Bottas switching to the mediums on lap 32. Lap 32 also saw Sainz, Ocon and Tsunoda pit for fresh tyres. While Sainz chose the hard tyres, Ocon and Tsunoda took the mediums. Alonso was the next driver to switch to the medium tyres on lap 34, rejoining in P9.
Meanwhile, on the track, Stroll got past Kubica for P14, while Russell got handed a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Leclerc pitted for the hard tyres on lap 35, rejoining in P5, while Giovinazzi suffered a puncture and had to pit again for a fresh set of mediums. The unfortunate incident took him out of contention for points.
Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Norris, Perez, Alonso and Ocon were the top 10 at the end of lap 36.
Vettel challenged Kubica for P14 and suffered a spin at turn three, losing positions to Tsunoda and Latifi. Bottas, who was lapping the field, saw the spin ahead of him and locked up. The Finn had to take avoiding action and lost time to Verstappen and Hamilton at the front.
Hamilton pitted again on lap 40, switching to a used set of mediums and rejoining in P2. Verstappen pitted a lap later, switched to the hards, and retained his lead. Meanwhile, Tsunoda got past Kubica for P14. Hamilton was the fastest man on the track on lap 42.
At the back of the pack, Mazepin suffered a hydraulic failure and retired from the race. The second round of pit stops had begun, and Norris switched to hard tyres on lap 44, while Vettel to the mediums a couple of laps later.
Hamilton couldn't close the gap to Verstappen and quipped that the bluff of an early stop hadn't worked. Meanwhile, McLaren switched Norris and Ricciardo's positions to allow Norris to build a gap to others behind on fresher tyres. Perez had got himself into contention for a points finish and switched to the soft tyres on lap 49. The Mexican rejoined in P11 but lost a position to Russell, only to reclaim it a lap later. Alpha Tauri detected an issue on the PU Data, which forced Tsunoda to retire on lap 50. Meanwhile, Hamilton was the fastest driver on the track.
Verstappen, Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Alonso, Ocon, Norris and Ricciardo were the top 10 at lap 53.
Perez was setting blistering lap times and closing in on Ricciardo in the battle for P10. McLaren instructed Ricciardo to hold up Perez to protect Norris' P9. The ploy failed, and Ricciardo got relegated to P11 on lap 55. Meanwhile, Verstappen and Hamilton were making their way through the backmarkers, and the ensuing traffic allowed Hamilton to close up within 1.5 seconds of Verstappen.
Further down the field, Vettel got past Kubica for P16 ( lap 57 ), while Giovinazzi relegated Latifi to P15 ( lap 60 ). Vettel continued his recovery with overtakes on Latifi and Giovinazzi to move up to P14. In the battle for P9, Perez had closed upon Norris. Similarly, Alonso began to pressure Sainz for P6.
Perez and Norris were side-by-side going into turn one on lap 67. Norris had the inside line but opted to go wide on the corner exit. Meanwhile, Perez opted to make a move on the outside of Norris. The duo banged wheels, and both cars lost some aerodynamic bits from the contact. Nevertheless, Perez claimed P9 from Norris and began to hunt down Ocon.
Mercedes asked Bottas to pit for soft tyres on lap 68 as a "precaution" against the vibrations building on his existing tyres. He then got instructed to refrain from attempting the fastest lap and allow Hamilton to gain that point. The Finn didn't heed the request despite James Vowles' communication ( Chief Strategist ) to abort the attempt. As a result, Hamilton got forced to pit again on the penultimate lap and switch to the soft tyres. Russell also pitted for soft tyres and served his time penalty in the pits.
Meanwhile, on track, Perez managed to get past Ocon for P8 ( lap 71 ) and closed up on Alonso and Sainz in the battle for P6. While Alonso got past Sainz for P6 on the final lap, Russell returned to the pits with a gearbox problem and retired.
Verstappen took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Dutch GP, while Hamilton came home in 2nd, having bagged the point for the fastest lap of the race on the final lap. Bottas came home in 3rd to complete a double podium for Mercedes.
Gasly produced another stellar drive to finish P4, followed by Leclerc and Alonso. Sainz managed to hold onto P7 from Perez, who put him under intense pressure. Ocon and Norris completed the top 10.
P11 was the best that Ricciardo could achieve, followed by the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel. Giovinazzi and Kubica were 14th and 15th, respectively, for Alfa Romeo, with Latifi, Russell and Schumacher completing the classified finishers.
The Dutch supporters were overjoyed at the sight of their home hero winning the race. For Verstappen, it was win number seven in 2021. The Red Bull driver reclaimed the lead in the Drivers' Championship. He led Hamilton by 3 points going into Monza. Verstappen had been flawless all weekend and deserved the win. Such was the dominance of Verstappen that he lapped everyone up to P4. As for his teammate Perez, he recovered from the disappointment of Qualifying to finish a commendable P8. Red Bull trailed Mercedes by 12 points in the Constructor Standings, but today was a day of celebration for their star driver.
As for Mercedes, a double podium with an extra point for the fastest lap helped them outscore Red Bull by two on the weekend. Hamilton did all he could to challenge Verstappen, but the Dutchman romped to victory unopposed. The mechanical issue on Friday compromised Hamilton's preparations for the weekend, and P2 was damage-limitation. The Briton relinquished his lead in the Championship. Bottas put in a composed drive to P3, overtaking Norris in the battle for P3 in the Drivers' standings. He, however, ruffled some feathers with his disobedience to team orders.
Gasly continued to impress with another P4 finish for Alpha Tauri. The Frenchman had finished in the top 6 for three races on the trot. Tsunoda suffered a retirement but was recovering well until the car broke down. Gasly's 12 points helped Alpha Tauri reduce the deficit to Alpine to six points in the battle for P5 in the Constructors'.
Leclerc had another strong showing in P5, while Sainz finished P7 in the other Ferrari. While Leclerc achieved the best result possible, Sainz complained about engine power the entire race, finishing 30 seconds behind his teammate. Nevertheless, Ferrari regained P3 in the Constructors', opening up a lead of 11.5 points to arch-rivals McLaren.
It was another double points-finish for the Alpine duo, with Alonso bagging P6 and Ocon P9. The Frenchman believed that he had more pace and got stuck behind Alonso during the early part of the race. Alpine maintained its hold on P5 in the Constructors' despite getting outscored by Alpha Tauri.
McLaren had a weekend to forget in the Netherlands. P10 and one point were the best that they could extract from the weekend. While Norris bagged the better result, Ricciardo once again went backwards to finish just outside the points. The result dealt a severe blow to their aspirations for P3 in the Constructors. The team needed to turn things around in Monza.
Aston Martin had another weekend without any points, its drivers getting stuck behind slower cars at pivotal moments of the race. Like McLaren, they too had a weekend to forget, slowly fading away from the midfield battle. They now trailed Alpha Tauri by 29 points and remained a lowly 7th in the Constructors.
Giovinazzi's heroics on Saturday came to nought after a puncture in the race dropped him out of the points. The Italian fought hard to salvage some pride for the team, but P14 was the best he achieved from a highly compromised Sunday. Kubica finished in P15, having enjoyed a Grand Prix driving a "much better car" than those from the past. The unavailability of Raikkonen due to COVID-19 hurt the team's chances, and with Williams going point-less this weekend, it was a missed opportunity for Alfa Romeo to reduce the deficit.
Despite retiring on the final lap, Russell got classified as P17, behind his teammate Latifi. The mistakes by both the drivers on Saturday ended any hopes for a top 10 finish on Sunday. It was a disappointing weekend for Williams after the highs of Spa-Francorchamps.
As for the Haas F1 Team, history was repeating itself as its drivers sparred both on and off the track. The friction from Saturday poured onto the race on Sunday, and Mazepin's defensive tactics didn't go down well with the top brass. Addressing the misunderstandings was a priority to avoid any untoward incidents at Monza.
Verstappen had made the most of the home advantage and won the race. Expectations were high, and Verstappen didn't falter in his performance.
The F1 contingent would now travel to Monza, Italy, to compete for supremacy at the Temple of Speed. The home of the Tifosi, Ferrari's beloved fans, Monza is the fastest track on the calendar and promises another humdinger of a race. It is also the home race for Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo, who will hope for a good showing.
Everyone prayed for Raikkonen to return fully fit for one last dance at Monza in front of the Tifosi and the fans of Alfa Romeo, who have loved him through his years of racing in F1.
Let the countdown to the Italian GP begin!