Posted on September 10, 2021.
by Nigel Bland.
After an absence of 36 years the Formula 1 World Championship returned to the Netherlands, with the Dutch Grand Prix being held at its traditional home of Zandvoort. From 1952 this high speed track in the sand dunes of the Dutch Coast held 30 Grand prix until its demise for commercial reasons after the 1985 race. During that time Tifosi legends had won 8 times, with Alberto Ascari winning twice in 1952 and 53, von Trips being triumphant in 1961, followed by Ickx in 1970, and Lauda in 1974 and 77. More recently Pironi, just before his career ending accident, in 1982 and Tambay in 1983 were the final Ferrari winners on the traditional 4.2 km circuit.
After 1985 track changes were necessary, as further resort expansion was “essential”, so the final 1.5 kms at the back of the circuit were given over to developers, thankfully including the stretch where both Piers Courage in the 1970 GP, and Roger Williamson in the 1973 race tragically lost their lives. A new much shorter circuit of 2.5kms was opened in 1990, with the track regaining some international status through the annual F3 Masters. In 1999 a new loop was added restoring the circuit to its former length, but with a tighter infield section, so that when Max Verstappen became a new F1 hero the Dutch authorities had a base circuit on which to negotiate for an F1 return. After considerable earth moving, to accommodate a newly banked final corner and much greater banking at turn 3 the circuit was ready for its return to the calendar in 2020, but Covid postponed those plans until last weekend.
Practise and Qualifying
Practise commenced with only three of the current F1 drivers having been born when the last Zandvoort GP was held, Raikkonen, Alonso and Hamilton, the latter not having yet celebrated his first birthday! It didn’t take long however for the drivers to be up to speed even though first practise was reduced to effectively 20 minutes of running due to an engine and Kers issue with the Mercedes engine used by Vettel’s Aston Martin. Track time continued to be at a premium in the afternoon with red flags for Hamilton (further Mercedes engine issues) and an incident for (surprise) Marzipan. From a Scuderia point of view 2nd practise promised much with Leclerc and Sainz leading the way, but Verstappen had yet to post a representative time.
Saturday started poorly for Ferrari drivers past and present. Firstly, Kimi Raikkonen tested positive for Covid 19, so on the weekend his imminent retirement from F1 racing was announced he had to vacate his seat for tester Robert Kubica. Disappointingly Ferrari (and Alfa) development driver Callum Ilott was not in Zandvoort as he was pursuing Indycar options in America, thus missing his big chance of an F1 lifeline. What might have been?
Secondly Carlos Sainz managed to severely damage his Ferrari at turn 3, so limiting his set up pre qualifying, and giving his mechanics a serious challenge in getting the car ready for the afternoon. Thankfully this was achieved as some pundits thought qualifying at Zandvoort would be almost as important as at Monaco as overtaking was considered to be near impossible, due to the high speed nature of the circuit, coupled with its old school width limitations. Maybe the desperation for a good qualifying influenced Q2 as this was stopped twice due to incidents for both Williams cars, meaning six red flags had been flown during F1 action before the GP had even started!
With both Ferrari’s comfortably into Q3 Tifosi hopes for a good grid position were extinguished by Verstappen and the two Mercedes being 0.5 seconds quicker than the rest of the field, which was led by the ever impressive Gasly in the Red Bull ‘B’ team. Leclerc and Sainz followed him closely before Giovinazzi (in a career best 7th), Ocon, Alonso and Ricciardo completed the top 10. Meanwhile at Haas Mick Schumacher and Marzipan had a further disagreement while competing for last place on the grid in their Ferrari engine chassis, just behind Kubica’s similarly powered Alfa.
As an aside 3 seconds covered the whole grid of 20 cars; in 1985 the first 20 cars in qualifying were covered by nearly 4 seconds (on a similar overall lap time), but 26 started (with 1 non qualifier) the last (Rothengatter in his Osella) being 8.3 seconds slower than Piquet’s Brabham. Progress?
The Race (Procession)
The predicted lack of overtaking unfortunately occurred, so with F1 reliability now being so exceptional and amazingly no safety cars the first five in qualifying finished in the same order, which meant the huge Dutch crowd witnessed a first home win for Max Verstappen. Lewis and initially Valtteri in the Mercedes kept Max on his toes, but the Red Bull could cover any strategy initiative Mercedes tried, and the top 3’s pace advantage was such that they lapped the whole field. To highlight this Max’s fastest race lap was 1.5 seconds quicker than Charles (who finished 5th) in his Ferrari, whereas the gap in qualifying was only 0.5 seconds. Yes they were on different tyre strategies, but all indications are the cars behind Red Bull and Mercedes are now concentrating their efforts on 2022 when the new regulations commence.
Behind the top 5 Sainz struggled for pace all day (his fastest race lap was only 13th) and lost 6th place on the final lap to that relentless racer Alonso, up from 9th on the grid. They were followed home by Perez (in a Red Bull that only seems competitive on a Sunday), Ocon and Norris. As for the other Ferrari engine cars Giovinazzi suffered a puncture and could only finish 14th ahead of his new team mate Kubica in 15th. Schumacher and Marzipan again clashed on lap 1, with Mick finishing 18th (last) three laps down while his Russian ‘team mate’ retired at half distance.
Next stop Monza and another sprint race to set the grid…