World champion and runaway series leader Max Verstappen made the most of his unerring speed and reliability, and the chaotic teamwork of his rivals, to claim a dramatic victory for Red Bull in his home Dutch Grand Prix on Sunday.
The 24-year-old Dutchman took full advantage of his team’s cool decision-making, as Mercedes and Ferrari appeared to make flustered choices in the heat of the moment, to come home 4.071 seconds ahead of George Russell of Mercedes and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
For several laps in the closing stages, it appeared that seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton might win until a late Safety Car resulted in him being left out on worn tyres by Mercedes, as Verstappen and Russell took softs.
Exposed and unable to defend his position Hamilton was furious, but the sea of 105,000 ebullient fans packed into the Zandvoort circuit revelled in their hero’s good fortune as he passed Hamilton and pulled clear to claim a second successive Dutch triumph, a fourth consecutive win and his 10th of the season.
"It wasn’t straightforward, but we pushed and we made the right calls," said Verstappen.
"It’s worked out really well and it’s always special to win at home."
As the forbidden flares and fireworks were lit and smoke spilled across the track, Hamilton came home fourth ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso.
In a race punctuated by interruptions and influenced heavily by strategic decisions related to tyre-wear, it was Red Bull’s exploitation of their opportunity that gave Verstappen his 30th career win while, for Hamilton, it seemed defeat had been clutched from the jaws of victory.
Verstappen now has 309 points ahead of Leclerc and Perez on 201 in the championship, making it possible for him to take his second drivers’ crown in Singapore on October 2.
- Hamilton anguish -
Verstappen who cut across from his 17th pole position to lead into the first corner followed by Leclerc and Sainz, who resisted a bruising charge from Hamilton.
On the tight track, with such a short lap, the action was intense. Leclerc pushed to stay in touch with the flying Dutchman, but by lap 12 was 1.7 seconds adrift with Sainz a further eight seconds down, ahead of Hamilton.
Sainz came in after 15 laps, taking mediums, along with Perez.
"Oh my God,” said Sainz as his crew searched for an errant left-rear tyre. His stop cost 12 seconds and left Hamilton third ahead of Russell. Sainz re-joined 11th.
Leclerc’s stop was a much smoother affair for Ferrari and he was followed by Verstappen. Hamilton took the lead ahead of Russell, the ‘silver arrows’ making the most of their choice of medium tyres.
Verstappen showed pace in pursuit of the Mercedes’ pair, running one and two for the first time this year, as the Alpines also impressed.
To the delight of the 'orange army', Verstappen swept round Russell at Turn One on lap 27 to chase old foe Hamilton, who pitted at the end of lap 29 for 'hards', re-joining fifth.
Russell pitted after 31 laps for ‘hards’ and re-joined fifth behind Hamilton.
The Mercedes men traded fastest laps before Hamilton swept past Perez at the second attempt on the banked final corner.
Sainz and Leclerc pitted again, for hards, the Monegasque re-joining fourth behind Russell before a bizarre intervention when Yuki Tsunoda, after two stops, retired his Alpha Tauri.
A Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed triggering another rash of stops.
Verstappen took hards, both Mercedes took mediums and the racing resumed on lap 50.
"Let’s go guys," said Hamilton praising his team's double-stacked stop before realising he was second, 12 seconds behind the champion.
"That VSC has stuffed us," said Hamilton, knowing that instead of Verstappen having to pass him, it was he who had to pass the Dutchman with 18 laps to go.
A full Safety Car (SC) was then deployed when Valtteri Bottas parked his Alfa Romeo at the Turn One entry, prompting Red Bull to pit Verstappen again for softs, a move that put the Mercedes first and second again.
Racing resumed on lap 60, with 12 to go, and on his worn, cold medium tyres Hamilton had no defence as Verstappen, taking a tow, cruised past to lead again.
Hamilton vented his understandable anguish in an expletive-laden team radio message at seeing a great chance to win snatched away.
"Why am I the only guy not out here on softs?” he asked.
Russell flew by a lap later and Leclerc too, on lap 66, leaving him fourth as the party started.