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DUTCH DELIGHT FOR MIGHTY Max

ZANDVOORT, NETHERLANDS - SEPTEMBER 03: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of The Netherlands at Circuit Zandvoort on September 03, 2021 in Zandvoort, Netherlands. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202109030260 // Usage for editorial use only //

“They were too fast for us this weekend,” is all Lewis Hamilton can say at the end of the Dutch Grand Prix.

He might have been talking about Max Verstappen, or Red Bull Racing, or the rabid Dutch fans who cheered their hero through every lap and turned the Zandvoort circuit into an orange beach party. More likely, it was all three.

Hamilton tried everything to beat Verstappen, pressuring the youngster with tyre stops and even a blocking move by his third-placed team-mate Valtteri Bottas, but at the finish his only real consolation prize was a single point for the fastest lap.

Hamilton and Verstappen are locked in a take-no-prisoners fight for this year’s world title that has led to several collisions including the massive shunt at the British GP, but the seven-time champion was surprisingly complimentary about the event and his rival.

“What a race and what a crowd, honestly, it’s been an amazing weekend. Max did a great job so congrats to him,” Hamilton says.

“I gave it everything I had out there. It was an incredibly difficult race out there, physically and mentally I think it was one of the toughest, but it’s an amazing track. This is one of my favourite tracks now and I’ve had a great time here in Holland, so I’m looking forward to coming back next year.”

But Verstappen was the one who could celebrate, as he reclaimed the world title lead – even if only by three points – and showed every bit of his speed and skill. It was a massive contrast to the miserable Belgian Grand Prix, where he could only dribble around behind the Safety Car to claim a desultory win that only paid half points.

“The expectations were very high. I’m so happy to win here, and take the lead as well in the championship,” says Verstappen.“The whole crowd has been incredible and I am so happy to win here.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this before in my life. Amazing day. It’s definitely a very good day.”

It was less than good for Bottas, who trailed home third and is now facing a downgrading to the Alfa Romeo team as youngster George Russell is promoted into Mercedes to begin the transition to an F1 world without Hamilton. He was nothing special at Spa, after crashing in qualifying, but Russell is a future ace.

Pierre Gasly was ‘best of the rest’ at Zandvoort for AlphaTauri, ahead of Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari that looked strong at times, and a resurgent Fernando Alonso in sixth for Alpine and three spots ahead of Esteban Ocon, despite his team mate complaining that he was holding him up.

“I thought we were generally competitive all weekend. Overtaking Carlos (Sainz) at the end felt fantastic, as early in the race I didn’t think we could catch the Ferraris,” he says.

Daniel Ricciardo showed promising signs when he qualified tenth at Zandvoort, ahead of his team mate Lando Norris for the second straight race race, but he had a clutch problem on the grid and then battled all the way to the flag. He was bottled up behind the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon, then had to clear a path for Norris to claim a point for tenth.

“We were P10 at one point today, but it was hard to see how we could’ve been much higher than that,” Ricciardo says.

Holland was the mid-point of an F1 triple-header and teams now head to Monza in Italy, where Mercedes should have the quicker car and Hamilton is heading to a run of circuits – including Sochi in Russia – where he can apply even more pressure to Verstappen in the title fight.

“I will of course celebrate at home this evening, but Monza is just around the corner and the championship fight is tight, so I want to make sure we perform at our best,” says Verstappen.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff is already planning ahead for the Italian Grand Prix, which will include a ‘qualifying sprint’ for the second time in 2021 after the success of the new format at Silverstone.

“P2 and P3 is a solid result and good points for us, so now we look to Monza. I’m sure it’s going to be another close weekend and an exciting fight. It’s a very different track and the Sprint Qualifying format returns, so we could see a bit of a different story. Let’s see how it goes,” says Wolff.

2021 DUTCH GRAND PRIX

  1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
  2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
  3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
  4. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
  5. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
  6. Fernando Alonso, Alpine
  7. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
  8. Sergio Perez, Red Bull
  9. Esteban Ocon, Alpine
  10. Lando Norris, McLaren
  11. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
  12. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
  13. Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
  14. Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
  15. Robert Kubica, Alfa Romeo
  16. Nicholas Latifi, Williams
  17. George Russell, Williams, DNF
  18. Mick Schumacher, Haas
  19. Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, DNF
  20. Nikita Mazepin, Hass, DNF

CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS:

1. Verstappen, 224.5; 2. Hamilton, 221.5; 3. Bottas, 123; 4. Norris, 114; 5. Perez, 108; 6. Leclerc, 92; 7. Sainz, 89.5; 8. Gasly, 66; 9. Ricciardo, 56; 10. Alonso, 46.

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