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Verstappen Goes Dutch, Wins Home Race

Sports

Max Verstappen on podium with trophy | Image by Motorsport

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Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix was a fantastic example of the allure of Formula 1 racing.

The combination of a classic track challenging teams in their setups and tire management, intriguing pit strategies and blunders, and the chaos of motor racing all culminated in an exciting race that typified why Formula 1 is the pinnacle of its sport.

After finishing just two-tenths of a second ahead of his chief rival, Charles Leclerc, in qualifying, reigning World Drivers Champ Max Verstappen began the race in pole position.

Many observers felt that the top starting position was a potential liability for Verstappen, as Leclerc would have the inside line going into the first turn. But Verstappen proved why he is a champion, getting an excellent start off the line and closing the door on Leclerc with ease.

Red Bull’s choice to put Verstappen on its softest tires surely played into his successful start, but this put the Flying Dutchman on course for a two-pit-stop race, which had implications for his ability to pull out the win later.

Ferrari continued its string of bad luck and bad decisions. Already suffering from a lack of pace early on race day, the team called in Carlos Sainz for a pit stop to change tire strategies. However, the pit crew was not ready, and only three of the four tires needed made it out to the pit lane when Sainz arrived.

While the average Formula 1 pit stop takes roughly two-and-a-half seconds, Sainz sat there for nearly 13 seconds as the team scrambled to get the fourth tire out and onto his car. And in a sport where hundredths of a second matter, the debacle in the pit lane essentially ended the day for Sainz, who struggled for pace throughout the remainder of the race.

Enter Mercedes, the team that has dominated the last decade of Formula 1 racing.

The team members found themselves decidedly third-best throughout most of this season. However, they have steadily improved their car’s setup and, when coupled with the massive talent of their driver team, have been showing signs of a late resurgence.

The Dutch Grand Prix proved to be their moment, but poor strategy doomed their chances for their first victory.

Starting both drivers on the medium compound tire, Mercedes was angling for a one-stop race, attempting to make up for a lack of pace with tire management and pit strategy. This looked like a winning bet for much of the race as Mercedes was in first and second place late in the race.

However, chaos with two separate cars caused a succession of disruptions to the natural race pace and created opportunities for pit strategy to impact the outcome.

During this time, Red Bull pitted Max Verstappen and put him on soft tires, while Mercedes kept Lewis Hamilton out on extremely worn medium tires.

While it was a difficult call, it was reminiscent of the final race of last season in which Mercedes chose to maintain track position over fresh tires.

This proved fatal again as Verstappen quickly flew by Hamilton after the race restarted to retake the lead. Hamilton fell as far back as fourth as other cars that took advantage of late pit opportunities passed him on fresher tires, including Mercedes teammate George Russell.

Verstappen was followed by Russell and Leclerc on the podium in second and third, respectively.

Verstappen is now 109 points ahead of the next closest drivers in the drivers championship, while team Red Bull is 135 points ahead in the constructors championship. Both look to be insurmountable leads at this point of the season.

The next race is the Italian Grand Prix at the famous “temple of speed” Monza circuit on Sunday, September 11 at 8 a.m. CST.   

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