Max Verstappen steered his car one last time into the final right-hand bend, which they made a steep curve in Zandvoort. 18 degrees, that’s a neat slant. The Dutchman felt the centrifugal forces again, which now pushed him into the seat with more than five times his body weight. But than him the Arie Luyendijkbocht spitting out again on the final straight, into an orange sea of happy-drunk Dutch people, Verstappen will have felt as if he were weightless.
On his left, the spectators lit pyrotechnic torches; on the right, the Red Bull team members cheered him on. And when a Dutchman won a Dutch Grand Prix for the first time, when King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima stood at attention to the hymn, one tended to forget the fact that the first five pilots had just finished in exactly the same order rolled in which they started. Behind Verstappen followed the Silver Arrows from Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, the Alpha Tauri from Pierre Gasly and the Ferrari from Charles Leclerc. Sebastian Vettel was 13th, Mick Schumacher 18th.
This new racetrack in the dunes, which had held so many departures, spins and sensations all weekend long, gave the spectators the biggest punch line on Sunday. By offering the perfect stage for the most unspectacular break of the season, of all places, in the race. While red flags were waved a total of six times on Friday and Saturday – four times in training, twice in qualification – the Grand Prix of the Netherlands (apart from a little spin by Sebastian Vettel in one of the banked curves) offered a procession this time. Towards the end, the only question that raised the tension was whether Hamilton would be able to catch up on Verstappen’s lead on medium-hard tires, which circled on hard rubbers without them bursting. Well: He didn’t succeed.
The real spectacle raged in the stands at the first Disco Grand Prix in Formula 1 history
With the win in Zandvoort, Verstappen took over the overall standings again, converting three points behind into three points lead. “It’s unbelievable,” he said: “The expectations were very high, it wasn’t that easy to live up to. But in the end it was a wonderful day with the result and the audience.” And Hamilton said: “They were definitely faster today. We couldn’t do anything about it.”
The real spectacle raged in the stands. On Sunday it seemed like a whole nation was gathering behind a racing driver. Just as the Germans once let Michael Schumacher into their living room, like the Spaniards fell in love with Fernando Alonso, the Dutch were now behind Max Verstappen. And he not only won the first Dutch Grand Prix in 36 years. It also won the first disco grand prix in the history of Formula 1. At times in the dunes of Zandvoort, the bass of the DJs thundered louder than the engines.
It was in the stands in the morning Geweldige Volksfeeststemming ruled, as they say in the Netherlands. In its dimensions, it was reminiscent of one of the wilder days from the pre-pandemic era. The 70,000 people who were unmasked around the clock were hugging each other on the stages as they had been in the surrounding beach bars the night before; they jumped, held brightly colored signs in the air to recreate the Dutch tricolor in a handsome choreography. In addition, they shouted “Hey Jude” from the Beatles, but also hits with a text that would have met lovers on the Schinkenstrasse in Mallorca.
The lights went out and the pole setter Verstappen immediately pulled away. When he accelerated out of the first bend, he had already pulled out a small lead over Hamilton, which hadn’t started badly either. Mick Schumacher and Nikita Masepin at the bottom of the field provided the greatest spectacle.
The day before in qualification, the Haas pilots had already fought a strange elephant duel for the penultimate starting position and blocked the traffic in the process. Masepin then publicly protested (“I don’t like it when someone is bold!”); he was convinced that, according to an agreement, Schumacher should not have overtaken him. However, he countered factually that he had received radio permission for the overtaking maneuver in order to warm up the tires better. So now the race was on, Masepin pushed Schumacher towards the pit lane, demolishing his front wing in the process. Schumacher had to pit early and swap him – and was lapped by Verstappen in the eighth turn. “It was a tough maneuver,” Masepin later admitted to Sky, “but that’s the way it should be.” He later retired with a loss. That should be the case.
Sebastian Vettel, who had been slowed down by the scramble among the Haas drivers on Saturday and therefore only started rolling in 15th place, just like Perez pitted early and committed to multiple tire changes. He had to do something differently to fight his way forward.
When it dawns on Hamilton that the strategy will not work, he begins to rant
At the top, the order of the first six had not changed after 20 laps. One lap later, Hamilton was the first driver from the leading group to change tires. His mechanics needed 3.6 seconds for the service, a bad time. One lap later, Verstappen stopped and his technicians did their job 0.6 seconds faster. Right at the front, Bottas temporarily circled ten seconds ahead of the local hero. But his lead on the used tires vanished like the dune sand in the sea breeze. Eight laps after his stop, Verstappen appeared full-frame in Bottas’ rear-view mirror, and at turn 31 he shot past. Bottas immediately made room for Hamilton. He hadn’t really stopped Verstappen, but at least he was finally allowed to go to his pits to pick up fresh tires.
After 39 laps, Hamilton held a second time. Standing time: 2.5 seconds. And again Red Bull countered immediately: 2.1 seconds for Verstappen. Because Hamilton got into traffic after his exit, his last hope was to make up the lead over Verstappen on the medium-soft tires. When it dawned on him that the strategy was not going to work, he began to rant on the radio. While he was cursing and quarreling, he drove closer and closer to Verstappen, first setting the fastest laps in a row. But then he had to switch from the gas and into the gentle mode.
Bottas made a little joke. Before his move to Alfa Romeo should be announced at the beginning of next week, he snatched the fastest race lap from his team-mate Hamilton shortly before the end. He took her back. In the last attempt. Bottas said he wanted to “secure the fastest lap for the team”.