Verstappen equals Vettel's record amid Dutch GP downpour

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Max Verstappen equalled Sebastian Vettel’s all-time record of nine consecutive race wins in Formula 1, overcoming a late downpour at Zandvoort to claim victory in the Dutch Grand Prix before a packed home crowd of fans.

It had by no means been a straightforward afternoon for the Red Bull driver, who started from pole but briefly lost the lead when rain at the start forced everyone into making early pit stops for wet weather tyres.

Team mate Sergio Perez benefitted from the disruption to go second but ran off when another massive downpour struck with eight laps to go causing the race to be stopped. At the restart Verstappen went on to win with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly joining him on the podium.

As an eclectic mix of Andrea Rieu and thumping techno music rang out around Zandvoort, there were no prizes for guessing who the star of the day was as far as the fans in the grandstands were concerned. Orange was the overwhelming colour, and it was local hero Max Verstappen who was the main attraction as he lined up in pole position on the grid. Lando Norris had cheekily claimed that he was owed a share of the support as well for the papaya-coloured McLaren, which took up position alongside the Red Bull on the front row.

Behind them, yesterday’s wet weather qualifying had helped shake things up with Mercedes’ George Russell and Williams’ Alex Albon comprising the second row, Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz immediately behind them followed by Sergio Perez and Oscar Piastri. Having crashed out in Q3, Charles Leclerc and Logan Sargeant rounded out the top ten. Further back, Lewis Hamilton was a distant P13 having been impeded in qualifying by Yuki Tsunoda, who had been demoted three places to P17 by the stewards. Missing from the grid altogether was Kevin Magnussen after Haas worked on the car overnight, meaning he would have to start from pit lane.

As the race got underway the question was when – not if – the rain would once again become a factor. The drops were already intensifying when the cars sprang into action and thundered down to the first turn. Everyone was relying on soft tyres to make a quick getaway with the exception of the out-of-position Hamilton on mediums. Verstappen was able to fend off an early probe from Norris, while Alonso got the jump on both Russell and Albon to move into third place.

Albon was able to hold off an attack from Sainz despite sliding his way out of the final corner on lap 1. With the rain now lashing down the cars were already starting to slither on the wet surface, Perez and Pierre Gasly were the first to dive down pit lane, but it backfired on Charles Leclerc as Ferrari were not ready with intermediates. Others quick to come in were Zhou Guanyu, Yuki Tsunoda, Kevin Magnussen and Liam Lawson.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 leads at the start of the race.
27.08.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Netherlands, Race Day.
- www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

Verstappen was in next time by, but by then the rain had already eased off. McLaren banked on it remaining that way and Norris stayed out, as did Russell, but they were struggling badly on slicks on the wet track. Hamilton had also tried to tough it out but he was soon forced to reconsider and pit. The upshot of this frantic reshuffle was Perez assuming the lead, 12s ahead of other early stoppers Zhou and Gasly, with Verstappen dropping to fourth just ahead of Leclerc, Alonso, Sainz, Tsunoda and Magnussen. Norris also now switched to inters and dropped out of the top ten, while Albon, Piastri, Valtteri Bottas, Nico Hulkenberg and Logan Sargeant were stubbornly sticking with the slicks in the hope that things might still go their way.

Soon back up to speed, Verstappen wasted no time dispatching Gasly and Zhou to pick up second, pushing the Alpine off line in the process as he took no prisoners. He was soon tearing into the gap between him and Perez, clearly in a hurry to resume the lead. Alonso soon passed Leclerc who had suffered floor damage to his SF-23, leaving him frustrating his team mate Carlos Sainz who was running behind him and being held up. With the track drying, those who had stuck to slicks were now setting fastest sectors, and race control also deemed conditions dry enough to activate DRS. That encouraged Hamilton and Magnussen to make a return to pit lane on lap 11 to restore their slicks, Zhou, Alonso and Sainz making the same decision.

Still running a few seconds behind Perez, Verstappen also decided to pit again, effectively undercutting Perez who was in a lap later and came back out in P2 on lap 13. Behind the Red Bulls, Alonso was third followed by Gasly and Sainz. Everyone was now back on softs, with the exception of Zhou currently running in sixth who was taking a more long-term gamble with mediums. The rest of the top ten was occupied by Magnussen, Piastri, Tsunoda and Ocon. Albon, Norris and Leclerc were just outside the points, Hamilton 16th and Russell 18th in what was proving to be something of a nightmare afternoon for Mercedes.

Sainz was pressing Gasly for fourth, and the yet-to-stop Albon had successfully picked off Tsunoda for P10 ,when a safety car was scrambled on lap 17 for his Williams team mate Sargeant going into the barriers at speed on turn 8. “Something failed on the front right when I hit the kerb,” the American said over the team radio. As the latest bout of rain had proved both shorter and lighter than feared, and the next showers not imminent, teams wasted no time in carrying out a further round of pit stops. It was the third already for Russell, Lawson and Lance Stroll at the back, but this time everyone was staying on slicks (although Russell tried the hard compound in a bid to go to the end).

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 leads behind the Aston Martin FIA Safety Car. 27.08.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Netherlands, Race Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Staley / XPB Images

The race resumed on lap 22 with Verstappen immediately pulling away from Perez, Alonso, Sainz, Sainz, Zhou, Magnussen, Albon, Ocon and Tsunoda, although Gasly had been hit with a future five-second penalty to serve for speeding on pit lane. Albon picked off Magnussen and Ocon in quick succession while further back Hamilton and Leclerc were going all-out in their battle over 12th, and Piastri was dicing with Bottas over 14th. Once he beat the Finn into submission the Aussie rookie was soon able to make light work of the ailing Ferrari and take off in pursuit of Hamilton, who was himself lining up Norris for attack.

As has been seen many times already this season, the Haas was wilting the longer the race went on and Magnussen plummeted out of the top ten on lap 29, promoting Norris into the points but with Hamilton close behind determined to have a say about that. Ahead of them both, Tsunoda pulled off a nice move on Zhou to take up eighth. Norris was also on hand to further demote the Alfa Romeo and then it was Hamilton’s turn to strike on lap 34, followed by Piastri taking away a further place from the Chinese driver.

Meanwhile Verstappen was setting a never ending stream of fastest laps, while providing his race engineer with a running meteorological commentary of how the rain clouds were looking. He was a comfortable 4.5s ahead of Perez, comfortably out of DRS range of the Mexican who was himself well ahead of Alonso, the Spaniard carefully hoarding his potential podium place after a recent lean spell for Aston Martin. The closest battle on track was between Tsunoda, Norris, Hamilton and Piastri over P8.

At half race distance, Stroll pitted for a fourth time, opting now for softs and dropping to the back. It was a precursor to a new round of pit stops, with no one worried about returning to inters as the radar was showing only very brief, light showers currently in the area. Sainz was in on lap 42 and Leclerc was also in as well – but in his case it was to retire. Having briefly lost out to AlphaTauri stand-in Liam Lawson, the compromised Ferrari’s condition had clearly deteriorated further and the team decided enough was enough.

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR23 makes a pit stop.
27.08.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Netherlands, Race Day.
- www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

Norris was in on lap 43 eyeing the undercut on Tsunoda, coming back out in 14th just behind Bottas. Ocon was in on the next lap, then Albon, before Hamilton gave up harrying Tsunoda and also opted to come in and leave the overtake to pit lane instead. Gasly was in on lap 47 with his speeding penalty to serve, but he nonetheless managed to come back out in sixth ahead of Russell, who had been slowly rising up the order thanks to his prolonged stint on the hard compound.

Perez had also pitted, temporarily handing second place to Alonso who was in on lap 49 for what proved to be a painfully slow stop with problems on the front left wheel. There were no problems for Verstappen when he came in on lap 50 and resumed in the lead from Perez and Sainz, with Alonso now fourth from Tsunoda, Gasly, Russell, Albon, Ocon and Norris. A mistake from Tsunoda on his ageing set of soft tyres cost him a place to Gasly, while a fired-up Alonso was determined to recover P3 after the botched pit stop and camped out on Sainz’ rear wing, soon pulling off a pass with aplomb down the inside of turn 1 on lap 52.

Tsunoda was now in sharp decline, making contact with Russell as the Mercedes forced its way past. Albon and Ocon also took advantage to dash past, leaving a queue of cars headed by Norris lining up to pick off the AlphaTauri whose only remaining hope was a late downpour. Unfortunately the game was up: Tsunoda promptly lost a further three spots on lap 55 to Norris, Hamilton and Piastri. Russell’s attempt to go to the finish was also nearing the limit, with Albon able to overhaul the Mercedes which subsequently strayed onto the wet grass and only narrowly avoided disaster right in the path of his team mate Hamilton. Elsewhere drivers were trying to set fastest lap times in expectation of the imminent rain making this their last opportunity to vie for the bonus point. It was Alonso who came up trumps in that particular game.

Sainz had just managed to pass Gasly for fourth when suddenly – literally as if someone had suddenly thrown a switch – the heavens opened in a biblical flood and there was mass panic as everyone swan dived down pit lane for wet weather tyres. Verstappen was too far down the road to react in time, meaning Perez, Gasly and Sainz were first in on lap 61. Mercedes was among those double-stacking their cars rather than risk leaving one of them out a moment longer. All went for inters with Alpine alone in putting Ocon on the extreme tyres, which he vehemently complained about.

Alexander Albon (THA) Williams Racing FW45 in the pits as the race is stopped.
27.08.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Netherlands, Race Day.
- www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

In fact the full wets were in a very practical sense the right call. The rain was so heavy that Perez locked up on the inters and aqua-planed off at turn 1, making light contact with the barrier. Zhou was also off the track while Hamilton was among those surfing across the gravel. A Virtual Safety Car was clearly insufficient and red flags terminated the race on lap 64 leaving the drivers tip-toeing back to pit lane and shelter.

As the rain eased and the track started to dry, the top ten for the restart (two laps behind the safety car on mandatory intermediates followed by a six lap sprint to the finish with no DRS) consisted of Verstappen, Alonso, Perez, Gasly, Sainz, Hamilton, Norris, Russell, Albon and Piastri. Just outside the points were Ocon, Tsunoda, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Lawson and Magnussen, with any lapped cars given time to get back on the lead lap.

Verstappen had the advantage of clear visibility at the front and smoothly pulled away while everyone else struggled with water spray. Russell pulled off a quick pass on Norris but light contact with the McLaren meant he then had to limp back to pit lane with a puncture. There was also disaster for Perez with news that he had been handed a five-second post-race penalty for speeding on pit lane.

There was no question that Verstappen had the race in his pocket, with Alonso second and Gasly picking up the final podium place after Perez dropped to fourth due to his penalty being applied. Sainz held on to fifth despite a late tap from Hamilton, with Norris emerging in seventh ahead of Albon, Piastri and Ocon. Stroll, Hulkenberg, Lawson, Magnussen, Tsunoda and Bottas all missed out on the points, and Russell finished a further half a minute behind after his late stop.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 leads Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR23. 27.08.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Netherlands, Race Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Miltenburg / XPB Images

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