Verstappen's home Dutch GP returns after Russell and rain steal show at Spa

By Sports Desk September 01, 2021

A Belgian Grand Prix washout only increased the intrigue in the two biggest battles in Formula One this season ahead of a return to Zandvoort.

The Dutch GP is back on the calendar for the first time since 1985 – when only three drivers on the current grid had been born.

There should be more racing this week than at Spa, where rain wrecked the weekend, and plenty of drama is in store.

The two biggest beneficiaries from the two-lap procession last time out were Max Verstappen and George Russell.

Verstappen closed to within three points of Lewis Hamilton thanks to his position on pole, while Russell claimed a first career podium as he bids to beat Valtteri Bottas to the second Mercedes seat.

Existing Silver Arrows stars Hamilton and Bottas will aim to respond on Sunday, although time may have run out for the Finn to make his mark.

LAST TIME OUT

Verstappen just pipped Russell to pole on Saturday at Spa but could not have known then how crucial that final dash would prove.

Sunday's race was delayed and delayed by awful weather, finally starting under the safety car only for a red flag to bring the drivers in once more.

With two laps fulfilled, it was enough to declare a result, giving Verstappen a precious win and Russell an improbable podium.

Until the Hungarian GP, immediately prior to the mid-season break, Russell's only F1 points had come in Hamilton's Mercedes as a reserve last season.

But an eighth-placed finish was followed by his best result yet, capping a great weekend for Williams, who also had Nicholas Latifi in the points for a second straight race.

Bottas was at Williams, alongside Felipe Massa, the last time they had two drivers do that back in 2016, but the team are eager to see Russell now get his chance at Mercedes.

Toto Wolff confirmed in Belgium the call had been made on their 2022 driver, and Williams team principal Jost Capito told Channel 4 of Russell: "I do not want to hang on to him.

"As he, the driver, can win the championship, he deserves a car that can win the championship, and he can do that in the Mercedes.

"And I am convinced he will come back in a couple of years and win the championship with us."

WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE NETHERLANDS

Some racing would be nice, and Hamilton and Bottas will not be the only men out to make amends.

Lando Norris' crash in qualifying cost him dear as he was unable to recover on race day, finishing 14th to continue a mini-slump after retiring in Hungary.

Focus will again be on the top two and on Russell, though.

With Williams having collected more points from their past two grands prix (20) than their previous 71 (15), he will be eyeing another unlikely challenge.

Russell could become the first Williams driver to claim consecutive podiums since Bottas' three in a row in 2014.

"Obviously off the back of last weekend in Spa, everyone just wants to get racing again and put on a show for all of the supporters at the circuit and for those watching around the world on TV," he said.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Return to form for Ferrari? – Back when Zandvoort was a regular on the F1 calendar, Ferrari registered more wins (eight), fastest laps (10) and podiums (24) than any other team at the Dutch GP.

Max out to make history – Verstappen could become the first Dutch driver ever to celebrate a win in his own country in F1. It would be only the third home Benelux win after Verstappen's triumph in Belgium and Jacky Ickx's 1971 Dutch GP success.

Red Bull front row regulars – After Spa, Red Bull have as many pole positions this season (six) as in the rest of the hybrid era combined. Another would take them level with Lotus on 47 all-time, tied fifth.

Hamilton hunting milestones – Still one win shy of 100 in F1, victory would also see Hamilton become the first driver to 4,000 points and give him his 175th podium.

Another to tick off – Hamilton has wins (29) and pole positions (30) at the most different circuits as he prepares to tackle his 34th. Meanwhile, fellow Zandvoort debutant Fernando Alonso has earned points at each of the prior 32 tracks at which he has appeared.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 202.5
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 199.5
3. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 113
4. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 108
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 104

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 303
2. Red Bull – 291
3. Ferrari – 163
4. McLaren – 163
5. Alpine – 77

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    Lewis Hamilton was "a little bit gutted" by qualifying sixth for the Spanish Grand Prix but is confident Mercedes can challenge Ferrari on race day. 

    Mercedes have endured a dismal start to the season and struggled to match the pace of the Red Bulls and Ferraris, with Hamilton's only podium coming when he finished third in Bahrain. 

    There have been significant signs of improvement at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – where Charles Leclerc pipped Max Verstappen to pole – but the seven-time champion was still outqualified by team-mate George Russell, who will start from fourth. 

    However, Hamilton hopes to be able to mix it with the Ferraris ahead of him on Sunday. 

    "The team have done a great job so a big, big thank you to everyone for keeping pushing back at the factory because we don't have bouncing in a straight line, which is a huge improvement for us. And the car has generally been nicer this weekend," Hamilton told Sky Sports. 

    "I am a little bit gutted [being sixth] because I want to be further up ahead, and you've obviously seen George is able to put it up further ahead than me, but I will keep pushing. 

    "[Friday practice] was our best race pace that we've had so if we could start racing with the Ferraris, for example, that would be amazing. 

    "I think the Red Bulls look like they might be quickest but we look like we could maybe compete with the Ferraris tomorrow and that is a big step for us." 

    Team principal Toto Wolff thinks the bouncing issues that have plagued Mercedes being solved has primed them to make further strides as the season continues. 

    "I think we have taken a solid step into Barcelona. You try to keep your expectations at a realistic point and I think where we slotted in is somehow the best we could have expected," said Wolff. 

    "My belief is we have a race car more than a qualifying car, but we're going to see tomorrow how it went for the others. I think with Red Bull, they always have the tendency of being much stronger in the race than the Ferraris. 

    "We know how to unlock more performance, but we're not yet there. It's step by step. The other teams have continued to develop their cars when we've been in a sort of pause moment to find out about the bouncing. 

    "So we can pick up the regular development as soon as we understand the tyres now the bouncing is gone." 

  • Leclerc recovers from spin to take Spanish Grand Prix pole as DRS failure costs Verstappen Leclerc recovers from spin to take Spanish Grand Prix pole as DRS failure costs Verstappen

    Charles Leclerc recovered from a Q3 spin to take pole as Max Verstappen was left to rue a DRS failure in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix. 

    Ferrari driver Leclerc span out at turn 14 on his first flying lap but produced an immense time with his next and only completed attempt, to ensure he will start from the front of the grid. 

    All four of the Monegasque driver's Formula One victories have come after starting on pole. Some 28 of the past 31 winners at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya qualified on the front row.

    Verstappen aborted his final lap after reporting a loss of power, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner confirming to Sky Sports that was due to a DRS issue. 

    The Dutchman will consequently start from second, with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz in third.

    "I feel good. It was a difficult session, especially in Q3 because I made a mistake in the first run and then only had one lap," said Leclerc.

    "But it went extremely well, I had a few moments but made it stick and very happy with pole position. It was a very good lap and the car was amazing too, so very happy.

    "We've been struggling with tyres in the last few races compared to Red Bull, so Max is just behind. If we don't manage those tyres we will lose that advantage, so we need to get on top of it.

    "I hope we can do a one-two. It will be great for the team and we will give it our all."

    Verstappen acknowledged he may not have been able to beat Leclerc's time but still felt second was a good return for the team.

    "It's always difficult to tell, I couldn't do my final run. Either the DRS didn't open or I just lost power," he said.

    "It's a bit of a shame, but overall to be on the front row here looking at the whole weekend here, it's a good achievement, but I'd have liked to go for that final run.

    "Hopefully, our car will be a bit kinder on the tyres again, but it's difficult to tell at the moment."

    Sainz added: "I think everything is possible tomorrow. We are definitely going to try our best to get ahead at the start and lead from there, but it wasn't the ideal qualifying because I couldn't set a good lap on the used tyre."

    George Russell was fourth and Lewis Hamilton qualified sixth as Mercedes' record run of nine straight poles in Barcelona came to an end.

    Mick Schumacher will start 10th after making it through to Q3 for the first time in his career, while home favourite Fernando Alonso was eliminated in Q1 alongside the two controversially remodelled Aston Martins.

    PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

    1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:18.750
    2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.323s
    3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.416s
    4. George Russell (Mercedes) +0.643s
    5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.670s
    6. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.762s
    7. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +0.858s
    8. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +0.932s
    9. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.547s
    10. Mick Schumacher (Haas) +1.618s

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    Lewis Hamilton was "super happy" after a promising practice session for Mercedes ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

    Hamilton and his team-mate George Russell recorded two of the best three times in FP2, behind Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who was fastest across both practice sessions at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

    Mercedes were also quicker than Red Bull down the straights, which has not been the case so far in a frustrating season for the team.

    Russell is fourth in the drivers' standings, two places ahead of seven-time world champion Hamilton, who has not held back in his criticism of Mercedes so far this season.

    But on Friday, he was in a much better mood.

    "Positive," he told reporters. "Super happy with the progress, so a big, big, big thank you to everyone back at the factory for not giving up and for continuing to push.

    "We're not the quickest yet, but we're on our way. This is the first time that we've driven down the straight without bouncing.

    "We still have some bouncing, but it's way better and [we're] starting to eke out a bit of the potential in that car.

    "It's still tough out there with the car but it's much nicer than it's been before. So yeah, really grateful for those upgrades – we now need to just fine-tune them into the next session.

    "Lots of data to go over to try and position the car, I think we can get it into a better place for tomorrow so that we can tackle the heels of the guys up ahead."

    Toto Wolff added: "We've had a second solid Friday like we had in Miami, just we have to see when the grip keeps coming tomorrow, whether we're able to keep that kind of performance and at least be in the mix or solid in the top three.

    "So, progress, but not exuberance and ecstasy."

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