NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Max Verstappen Wins Pole for the Dutch Grand Prix

Max Verstappen ripped off a perfect lap to earn the pole for the Dutch Grand Prix at Circuit Zandvoort on Saturday (Sept 4).  Lewis Hamilton pushed his Mercedes to the edge in an attempt to deny Verstappen’s bid to lead the field at his home GP but came up .038 of a second short.  Valtteri Bottas slotted into the third position, putting Mercedes in a solid position to maximize points in the constructor’s championship.

Pierre Gasly put together a masterful effort in his Alpha Tauri to claim the fourth spot, pipping the Ferraris that had looked excellent so far this weekend.  Charles Leclerc will start fifth from his effort with teammate Carlos Sainz alongside in sixth.

Antonio Giovinazzi earned a surprising seventh-place starting position in his Alfa Romeo, with Esteban Ocon taking eighth ahead of his teammate Fernando Alonso who took ninth.  Daniel Ricciardo, who has struggled to find pace in his McLaren rounds out the top ten from the qualifying session.

Returning to Circuit Zandvoort for the first time since 1985, the conditions for qualifying looked to be a good deal better than those that accompanied last week’s trip to Spa-Francorchamps.  Save for the wind providing a challenge, the sun shone throughout on the undulating and banked track.

Qualifying was marred by two red flag sessions, both for Williams drivers, and both in Q2.  George Russell first brought out the stoppage by spinning out and backing his car into the barriers.  Russell’s error brought out a relatively short pause to the proceedings, whereas Nicholas Latifi’s issue and slam into the barriers ended Q2 and put the track engineers to work to repair the safety barricades.

While Williams will be taking a financial hit from Q2, the wrecks also prevented Yuki Tsunoda, Lando Norris, and Lance Stroll the attempt to improve on their times, locking them into positions outside the top ten.

One of the shocks of qualifying came when Sergio Perez failed to make it out of Q1.  With a short track and a queue of drivers looking for an opening, Perez missed out a chance to lay down his best lap and will start his second straight grand prix from outside the top ten – surely not what Red Bull is seeking from their re-signed driver.

In addition, Sebastian Vettel also failed to make Q2 after being, essentially, blocked by the two Haas drivers who seemed confused on track.  The relatively short track, at 2.6 miles, with lap times hovering around 70 seconds, created congestion on the circuit and made for some difficulty in finding a clear spot to run.

One final note about qualifying was Robert Kubica’s return, filling in for Kimi Raikkonen who exited the weekend after testing positive for COVID.  Finding Kubica in the seat came as a surprise and one wonders who else Alfa Romeo could have enlisted for spot duty.

Odds & Sods

The return to the Netherlands is a delightful addition to the schedule and offers something unique to the series – corners that are banked more like a NASCAR track than the typical mild banking found on most circuits.  Whether the two turns featuring the highest degree of elevation prove to be a place for passing is something that will be discovered during the race.

For now, the re-introduction of the race and the filled stands is a boon for a sport that has incurred cancelations from a number of tracks this year.  With Japan, China, and Australia all off the calendar, visiting a track that could not be visited in 2020 feels like even more of a celebration.  Of course, with Verstappen enjoying a stellar year, the elated Dutch fans have created a jubilant atmosphere.

In other news, the first domino in this year’s silly season fell when Kimi Raikkonen announced his retirement.  The departure of the 2007 champion opens a seat at Alfa Romeo, one that is rumored to be filled by Valtteri Bottas.

The Bottas move sets up George Russell’s signing with Mercedes, a long-rumored change of teams that seems inevitable.  Where things are getting interesting is with the seat that will open at Williams with Russell’s departure.

Red Bull are pushing for their reserve driver Alex Albon to take the seat, but team principal Christian Horner has intimated that Mercedes and his opposite number, Toto Wolff, may block the move.  Whether or not Wolff does attempt to block Albon from joining Williams would be a way that he could needle Horner as the two have engaged in a wild tete-a-tete this year.

Wolff has said he is focused on helping Formula E champion Nyck de Vries determine his future, be it in FE or in F1 and his goal is to ensure a seat is open should it be the latter.

Expect the sniping between Horner and Wolff to continue as the season progresses.

Qualifying Results – Dutch Grand Prix; Zandvoort, Netherlands (Sept 4)

Pos No Driver Car Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing Honda 1:10.036 1:09.071 1:08.885 15
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:10.114 1:09.726 1:08.923 17
3 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:10.219 1:09.769 1:09.222 17
4 10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri Honda 1:10.274 1:09.541 1:09.478 17
5 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:09.829 1:09.437 1:09.527 18
6 55 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:10.022 1:09.870 1:09.537 19
7 99 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari 1:10.050 1:10.033 1:09.590 17
8 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault 1:10.179 1:09.919 1:09.933 17
9 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine Renault 1:10.435 1:10.020 1:09.956 13
10 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes 1:10.255 1:09.865 1:10.166 17
11 63 George Russell Williams Mercedes 1:10.382 1:10.332 13
12 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes 1:10.438 1:10.367 13
13 4 Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes 1:10.489 1:10.406 13
14 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams Mercedes 1:10.093 1:11.161 16
15 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda 1:10.462 1:11.314 15
16 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing Honda 1:10.530 9
17 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes 1:10.731 7
18 88 Robert Kubica Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari 1:11.301 9
19 47 Mick Schumacher Haas Ferrari 1:11.387 11
20 9 Nikita Mazepin Haas Ferrari 1:11.875 10

 

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