The return of Formula One to the Netherlands, and the Zandvoort racetrack is outlined by our regular contributor Nick van der Meulen in his report F1 Review Netherlands 2021.
Zandvoort has been the circuit that hosted the Dutch F1 Grand Prix from 1950 to 1985 (four years in this period did not stage the Grand Prix at this venue). In the final Grand Prix in 1985 Niki Lauda kept McLaren teammate and archrival Alain Prost at bay to take his 25th and final Grand Prix victory.
It is the venue that saw Gilles Villeneuve famously pass Alan Jones into Tarzan corner (Turn 1) in 1979, only for his left tyre to explode later in the race, forcing the Canadian to spin his Ferrari to a halt. Villeneuve demonstrated his never-say-die attitude by reversing his Ferrari from the kitty litter onto the tarmac and charging to the pits for repairs. The wheel hub couldn’t take the stress and the diminutive Canuck staggered his bucking Ferrari into the pits, hub and suspension dragging behind his mount…
A number of happenings took place ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix, with the rumour mill spinning at top speed. Kimi Raikkonen announced his retirement from the sport at the end of the season, fueling the idea that Valtteri Bottas will move from Mercedes to Alfa Romeo next season. The much-speculated move of George Russell from Williams to Mercedes appears to be a done deal.
Red Bull Racing, in the meantime, lodged a query to the FIA with regard to Mercedes’ power unit, implying that sensors that monitor the engine’s inlet plenum temperatures are being manipulated. According to the regulations, the plenum air temperature must be at least 10 degrees above the external ambient temperature. How on earth would Red Bull know what is happening inside the Mercedes engine? Finally, after the first two free practice sessions, Raikkonen tested positive for Covid-19 and was ruled out for the remainder of the weekend (and may miss Monza too). He was replaced by test driver Robert Kubica.
Dutch hearts were aflutter as local hero Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing-Honda) delivered a masterful performance on home turf, surging to victory from pole position. The last two laps saw fans blasting orange dust in the grandstands amid deafening cheers as they began celebrating the first Dutchman to win the Dutch Grand Prix, his 16,045th triumph (two laps out of 44 last time out is not a victory and should not show as such in the statistics). He reclaimed the world championship lead in the process, despite archrival Lewis Hamilton’s (Mercedes) best efforts. Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, started from pit lane after a disastrous qualifying session; the Mexican carved through the field to claim points for finishing eighth, winning the Driver of the Day accolade in the process.
Lewis Hamilton could only chase Verstappen to the chequered flag, while Bottas, who is expected to leave the team at the end of the season, played his part in trying to hold up Verstappen for Hamilton’s benefit early on, but spent the day running a lonely third. He made a late pit stop and charged to attempt to claim the point for fastest lap, but was asked to abort. He lifted and still posted the fastest lap, such that Hamilton had to pit on the penultimate lap to ensure he reclaimed it. While the Finn didn’t play a role in the battle for victory, his podium finish ensured that he moved to third position in the title chase, after Lando Norris’s (McLaren-Mercedes) difficult race weekend.
Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri-Honda) and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) both had a solid day in the office, finishing where they qualified in fourth and fifth place, respectively, while Fernando Alonso (Alpine) did well to work his way into sixth position by the fall of the chequered flag, after muscling past countryman Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) in the closing stages of the race. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) and Norris faded in the final laps, but still claimed the remaining points on offer in ninth and tenth place, respectively.
The 14th round of the F1 world championship is less than a week away, at Monza, Italy, as the third event of the triple-header. Monza needs no introduction to fans and the Tifosi will be praying for a Ferrari victory.