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Zandvoort thriller sees rain and strategic gambles throw surprises

Driver skill and weather prediction take centre stage in a highly unpredictable race

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F1’s return from its summer break featured rain and strategic gambles throughout the order. 

Max Verstappen leads the field around the first lap at Zandvoort (Image Credit: @F1 on Twitter)
Max Verstappen leads the field around the first lap at Zandvoort (Image Credit: @F1 on Twitter)

Dark clouds loomed over the legendary Zandvoort circuit on race day. After a chaotic F2 race in the morning, the scene was set for a series of epic Dutch duels.

Polesitter Max Verstappen wanted to win a record-equalling ninth consecutive race on home turf. Alongside Verstappen, Lando Norris set his sights on taking his first F1 victory. With the might of his home crowd behind Verstappen, this would prove to be a tall order.

The second row of George Russell and Alex Albon looked relaxed before lights out. Beneath the smiles, pressure mounted. Russell needed a strong result to negate a series of uncompetitive showings, while Albon hoped to bring home a substantial points haul for Williams. Both wanted to move forward at the start to maximise their races.

Several drivers entered the race with a point to prove after struggling during qualifying. The second Red Bull of Sergio Perez needed a strong result after ending Saturday a whopping 1.3 seconds behind teammate Max Verstappen. At the same time, Liam Lawson aimed for a stress-free debut for AlphaTauri in place of the injured Daniel Ricciardo. Charles Leclerc needed to bounce back after crashing out in Q3.

One of the most anticipated aspects of the afternoon would be Lewis Hamilton’s progress through the field. The seven-time World Champion needed to recover from a disastrous P13 during qualifying on a circuit where overtaking is challenging. Kevin Magnussen would have the hardest job of all, starting from the pitlane.

Keeping calm would be key off the line, as the threat of rain arose again as the cars set off on the formation lap.

Lights out

At lights out, he converted his pole position, seeing off the threat of Norris and McLaren. Alex Albon tried to take third from Russell, but Russell soon found himself demoted as Alonso pulled off an ambitious move to move into third. Albon began to go backwards, dropping to P5.

But the threat of rain came to the fore on the first lap, soaking the second sector of the track. The conditions allowed Alonso to pass Norris. Ferrari pitted Charles Leclerc but did not have any tyres ready. dropping to P17. Perez also pitted in a huge gamble.

Verstappen and Alonso pitted at the end of lap 2, gambling on the intermediate tyres. But that extra lap proved to be very costly.

Slippy, sliding action

Once Perez moved into P2, he was 14 seconds ahead of Verstappen, thanks to one lap longer on the intermediate tyres. Leclerc’s pit stop gaffe was covered off by others pitting, and he found himself in P5.

Norris needed to concede defeat, pitted for intermediates, dropping to P12. Others chose to remain on the dry tyres, on a damp track. Alonso and Verstappen began to climb up the order. Alonso quickly passed Ferrari’s Leclerc, while Verstappen passed Gasly and Zhou on lap 8 to move into P2. The rain stopped, but the track was now a skating rink as the drivers hunted for grip.

Once clear, Verstappen was over 4 seconds faster than his teammate, cutting Perez’s lead from 11 seconds to just 7 seconds in a matter of minutes.

Liam Lawson’s debut became more challenging, the stewards awarding him a ten-second penalty for impeding in the pitlane.

The two Ferraris swapped positions on lap 8, as Charles Leclerc reported front wing damage, obtained from contact with Piastri. The top 15 had intermediate tyres fitted, while the rest of the field still had soft tyres. But the tide was about to turn.

Wet or dry tyres?

Oscar Piastri began to show a turn of speed on his soft tyres, sending a flurry of drivers into the pits for slicks. Red Bull reacted immediately, pitting Verstappen on lap 12, undercutting his teammate. Perez was left far from impressed.

Alonso pitted with Zhou Guanyu, passing the AlphaTauri as the cars warmed up their tyres. The dry tyres began to give grip, but those who gambled on staying out when the rain first started to fall were over a minute behind the leaders. Albon and Williams were delighted, as, after all the pitstops, Albon stayed in P8.

Norris, who started P2, found himself P12 on lap 15, as the McLarens began to set consecutive fastest laps but were way down the order. Haas called the strategy perfectly, with Kevin Magnussen running P7 on lap 16.

Logan Sargeant found the barriers at turn 8, bringing out the Safety Car. Russell dived into the pits and gambled on the hard tyres. Lance Stroll pitted from P19 for mediums. Pierre Gasly’s afternoon became more difficult with a 5-second penalty for pitlane speeding.


Restart and battles

The race restarted on lap 21. Verstappen bolted at the final corner, holding off his teammate. Perez would not have a chance to pass Verstappen, as he needed to block the charging Aston Martin of Alonso. Sainz and Gasly continued their race-long battle, with Gasly’s Alpine holding the advantage.

McLaren’s hope for the afternoon continued to evaporate as Piastri ran wide, gifting P15 to the Alfa Romeo of Bottas. Alex Albon passed Kevin Magnussen to move into P7. Zhou continued to perform strongly, holding his P6, but he would begin to fall down the order.

DRS became a factor, Alonso targeted taking P2 from Perez but remained around a second behind the Red Bull. Down the order, Hamilton took P12 from Leclerc, with Piastri following through a few corners later. Ferrari’s woes were compounded as Bottas began to close in. Sainz ran in P5 at this stage of the race but could not make an impression of Pierre Gasly in front.

The lower points proved to be where the action was. Norris re-entered the points on lap 28, relieving Magnussen of P10 as the Dane received a black and white flag for an earlier incident involving Alex Albon. Piastri, Hamilton, Norris, and Yuki Tsuonda were on the move, relieving Magnussen and Zhou of their positions.

Hamilton, Norris, and Yuki Tsuonda engaged in a tight battle. Tsuonda defended for lap after lap.

Leclerc’s miserable afternoon continued unabated, losing P14 to the customer Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo of Bottas. Liam Lawson menacingly loomed in and passed the Ferrari before Leclerc took position back on the main straight. Leclerc would retire on Lap 42 with floor damage.

Final strategic gambles

Sainz pitted for new soft tyres as the sky darkened, but the rain stayed away. Sainz set off a chain reaction of pitstops, with Norris, Ocon, Hamilton and Albon opting to pit in an attempt to undercut rivals to move ahead. This group included Sergio Perez, who aimed to reduce the gap to his teammate significantly. He would ultimately fail.

Gasly pitted on lap 47 and served his 5-second penalty. Exiting just ahead of Russell, the Alpine was forced to defend hard but maintained its position. Alonso was next to pit, suffering a delay, costing Alonso P3. Undeterred, the Spaniard set off after the Ferrari, closing in fast on his compatriot. Alonso passed the Ferrari with ease on lap 52 with ease.

Tsunoda’s ambitious strategy began to fall away, dropping down the order as his well-used soft tyres began to fall away. The AlphaTauri suffered a minor collision with George Russell. Russell, Hamilton, and Norris all passed Tsunoda, the AlphaTauri, out of the points.

Albon then gave Williams a boost, passing Russell for P6. Hamilton then ended his race-long battles with Norris, passing the McLaren to take P9. He took P8 from Ocon shortly after as the Mercedes began to charge. Gasly and Sainz resumed their race-long battle, with Gasly pushing hard to take P5 from the Ferrari, succeeding after three laps of trying, with an ambitious move into turn one.

The two Mercedes cars found themselves on the same piece of tarmac, with Russell forced to concede to his teammate after a hairy moment.

More rain and a red flag

Rain arrived with just 11 laps left. While some pitted as soon as the rain fell, some opted to try for another lap. Max Verstappen was part of this group but was unaffected, keeping his lead.

The entire field pitted for intermediate tyres, except Esteban Ocon, who gambled on full-wet tyres. Perez locked up his front tyres and hit the barrier, losing P2 to Alonso.

Drivers began to struggle, with Hamilton, Bottas, and Tsunoda ran wide, but all continued. The rain intensified further, with Zhou Guanyu hit the barrier shortly afterwards, bringing out the red flag. This left Perez in the unfortunate position of being stuck at the end of the pitlane, dropping to P6.


Five lap shootout

With the count back from one lap prior to the red flag, Perez was moved back up to third. The FIA confirmed a rolling start procedure, with intermediate tyres mandatory.

After two laps behind the Safety Car, the end of the race got underway, with drivers throwing caution to the wind. Verstappen led away, with Alonso attempting to pass the Red Bull. Sergio Perez then received a 5-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane, ruining his race.

Russell passed Norris but rapidly dropped down the order afterwards, retiring his Mercedes after a collision with the McLaren.

The tightest battle was for P5 between Sainz, Hamilton and Norris. Sainz placed his Ferrari in the centre of the track, with Hamilton unable to pass.

Max Verstappen took the chequered flag, taking his ninth consecutive victory, equaling Sebastian Vettel’s run in 2013. Alonso returned to the podium for the first time since Canada, with Pierre Gasly taking P3 away from Sergio Perez. Sainz took P5, Hamilton P6, Norris P7, Albon P8, and Piastri P9, with Ocon rounding out the top ten.

Down the order, Lawson beat his teammate Tsunoda on his F1 debut, putting in a good performance after his last-minute call-up.

Full race classification

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images 

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