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F1 at Zandvoort – Verstappen conquers his first home race; the best ever Grand Prix?

Zandvoort, NL, Sept 5/21 (GRW): The Dutch Grand Prix was the kind of race that makes you a life-long Formula One fan. The Burch Grand Prix returned to the Zandvoort circuit for the first time since 1985 and home boy Max Verstappen won it in thrilling style – in charge the whole distance – in front of a (COVID-limited) sellout crowd of Dutchmen all in their orange regalia. And he won after holding off Lewis Hamilton for the whole race. While not exactly a nail bitter, this was a thrilling race from start to finish.

Verstappen had won the pole ahead of the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and, at the start, he shot out into the lead, quickly building a margin beyond DRS range back to Hamilton. The first phase of this race saw Verstappen building a small cushion over the Mercedes pair.

Hamilton pitted for fresh tires on lap 20 of the 72-lap race, committing to a two-stop strategy. Verstappen followed a lap later and he came out ahead of Hamilton on the road – forestalling any hope of the ‘undercut’ for Hamilton.

This left Bottas out on the track – presumably going for a one-stop race – ahead of Verstappen. If that had been Mercedes strategy, Verstappen wiped it out when he reeled in Bottas and passed him for the lead on lap 30. Bottas came in for new tires and he soon fell to third behind Hamilton.

The race was by no means over but, from this point forward, Verstappen led every lap to the checker.

Hamilton made his second pit stop on lap 39 and he took on medium tires. Verstappen pitted a lap later again and he got hard tires – something of an unknown quantity.

It turned out that Verstappen was able to maintain the pace on the hard tires and stay ahead of Hamilton. Even though the gap was less that the one-second DRS margin a few times, the Dutchman stayed in command while Hamilton started to complain about the wear on his medium tires. But, by now, the die was cast and both of them had to soldier on to the end on the tires that they had.

Near the end, Bottas had to pit for fresh tires and he got soft tires to allow him to go for the lap record in the remaining laps. The Mercedes management saw the error in this plan and with just a couple of laps to go they called in Hamilton to give him soft tires as well, conceding the win to Verstappen. Hamilton gave it his all and he succeeded an gaining the single point for fasted race lap minimizing the points advantage he was going to give up when Verstappen took the win.

PHOTO F1 ZANDVOORT PODIUMThe Podium: Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

“As you can hear already, it’s just incredible,” said Verstappen. “The expectations were very high going into the weekend and it’s never easy to fulfil that. But I’m of course so happy to win here, to take the lead in the championship. It’s an amazing day. Just the whole crowd. It’s incredible.

“The start was very important, I think we did that well, and then of course Mercedes tried to make it very difficult for us but we countered them all the time really well. We can be really pleased with the whole team performance today”

Max’s win gave him 25 points to Lewis’ 18 (+ one for fastest lap) and it returned him to the lead in the drivers’ championship standings with 224.5 points to Hamilton’s 221.5, a three-point margin. Zandvoort, with its tight configuration probably favoured the Red Bull car while the next two tracks – Monza and Russia – have more fast straights and this may favour the Mercedes. This championship race is not over yet.

Only these three drivers finished on the lead lap. Trailing in behind them a lap down were Pierre Gasly (Alpha-Tauri), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (Alpine) and Carlos Sainz (Ferrari). Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate blew it in qualifying and he started from the pits. Despite flat-spotting a tire, forcing an unplanned pit stop early in the race, he kept fighting and this effort was rewarded with an eight-place finish and winning the fan vote for driver of the day.

For me Zandvoort has a special place among my favorite race tracks. I remember reading one of my first proper F1 race reports which told me of Fangio’s dominance of the circuit in his Mercedes in 1955 – with his teammate Stirling Moss right behind. The Lotus team debuted the then-new Cosworth V-8 here in 1967 – and Jim Clark went on to win that race, the start of an amazingly long period of dominance by that Ford-funded engine. Another eleven years on, I was there when Mario Andretti was on a tear in the championship-winning Lotus 79 (still powered by the Cosworth engine), and he won what was to be his last victory in F1 in his career. With the massive turnout at this year’s revival of the Dutch Grand Prix and the satisfying win by the home town driver, it looks like the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort will be an important event on the calendar for years to come.

• Click HERE for the Race Results + Points Standings

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