Max Verstappen turned in a sensational performance on Sunday to become the first Dutchman ever to win a home Grand Prix and regain the lead in the Drivers’ Championship title race.
The Red Bull star was pushed all the way by reigning champion and title rival Lewis Hamilton, but Verstappen’s superb drive left the Briton with little chance of catching him. Mercedes will be pleased to have taken second and third through Hamilton and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, and the seven-time drivers’ champion also claimed the extra point for fastest lap.
But the headlines, and the adulation of the Dutch crowd in Zandvoort, was reserved for Verstappen, and as the Dutchman rose from his vehicle as the victor he was met by an incredible roar from his compatriots in the crowd. The level that the 23-year-old is driving at is just breathtaking.
Verstappen got the better of Hamilton at the start, getting in front and cutting off the Mercedes star. But neither Red Bull nor Mercedes had the quickest pit-stop times in the early stages, and that seemed set to have a significant impact in the outcome of the race. Mercedes’ tactic to undercut Red Bull backfired as Verstappen managed to maintain a two-second lead on Hamilton and it seemed they needed to regroup and assess their strategy to close the gap. But ultimately they just couldn’t crack the code to outfox Red Bull, who were just too quick for Mercedes.
Verstappen was a man possessed on home soil as he came close to lapping drivers in the points after just 21 laps. And after his stop, he persisted and battled hard to overtake Mercedes’ Bottas as Hamilton closely followed. It was clear that Bottas’ tyres were not going to shut out Verstappen and he had to make a stop which was carried out in just 2.2 seconds. Mercedes will be left wondering why they could not do that for Hamilton too.
Toto Wolff’s team once again pulled Hamilton in for an early second stop and it seemed set to pay off as he closed in on Verstappen, forcing Red Bull’s hand as the Dutchman entered the pits shortly after. However, Mercedes came to rue their decision as it became clear they hadn’t achieved an advantage over their rival. Verstappen’s excellent start caused frustration for Hamilton who, after recording the fastest speed on track, could not get close to the leader. He was also left venting when he struggled at times to hear his team via comms, and he made it clear that he did not think he would be able to complete the race with the tyres he had, having only three sets of used tyres to replace them.
This provided another boost for Verstappen, who had three fresh sets at his disposal in the late stages, not that he needed to worry too much about his tyres thanks to his superb performance on the track. Further down the leaderboard, Williams’ George Russell received a 10-second penalty for speeding in the pits while Sebastian Vettel suffered a spin which caused him to drop a few places.
But it was Verstappen who was the headline-grabber, coming home almost 21 seconds ahead of Hamilton to take a three-point lead in the title race despite the Brit taking an extra point for a fastest lap on the final go around.