5 things we learned from Friday practice at the Dutch Grand Prix
Max Verstappen’s orange army gave the Formula 1 fraternity the warmest of welcomes as Friday practice got under way at a sunny but windy Zandvoort. On paper, their hero didn’t have the best of starts, but is the championship leader still the favourite to win his home race for the second time?
1. Ferrari appear to have the upper hand
It was smiles all round at Ferrari after Friday practice as the return to a high-downforce circuit hauled the red cars back into contention and marked them out as the front-runners.
They’ve had the edge on Red Bull in qualifying trim this year – between Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, they’ve taken nine podiums in 14 events – and that continued into Zandvoort with Ferrari holding close to a 0.4s advantage.
When it comes to race pace – where they have traditionally been second to Red Bull this year – they hold a slender edge at 0.15s and that means getting the strategy right and good tyre management will be key if they want to convert it into victory.
READ MORE: ‘It’s great to be back feeling competitive’ say Ferrari drivers after topping FP2
2. Red Bull giving chase
Not a smooth Friday for Red Bull, with Max Verstappen missing most of first practice – and thus only running the hard tyre – when he encountered a transmission issue. He got back out in second practice, but didn’t have the right balance and was struggling for grip.
His team mate Sergio Perez had a frustrating day, too, running off track and encountering some lock-ups as he struggled to get the car to do what he wanted it to do.
They’re third quickest behind Mercedes in qualifying trim – and only a fraction ahead of McLaren. It’s likely they will shut the gap to Ferrari, though, as they usually find something overnight – but can they overhaul them? That’s a big challenge, considering the gap…
READ MORE: ‘We can do better than this’ says Verstappen after rocky start to home weekend at Zandvoort
3. Mercedes haul themselves into contention
The Mercedes looked like a different beast on the tight and twisty turns of Zandvoort, compared to low-downforce Spa, with the team finding it easier to find a balance early doors.
That gave them a strong foundation on which to build and while they feel they are “still missing a bit” on a single lap and long run but they know where they want to head on Saturday.
They’re fourth fastest in race simulations, just behind McLaren, and around three quarters of a second off the pace – and the feeling is that they are very much in the hunt for the podium this weekend.
READ MORE: Russell and Hamilton say Mercedes have found 'sweeter spot' with W13 after strong first day at Zandvoort
4. McLaren looking sharper
It was a good day for McLaren on multiple fronts. Not only did they announce Oscar Piastri would drive for them – not Alpine – from next season but their form on track was more encouraging than at Spa.
The low point was that a radiator problem cut short Daniel Ricciardo’s FP2 session, which meant he missed the high-fuel run. However the team reckon they have a good understanding of the tyres and the direction they want to go for set-up.
They’re fourth best in qualifying pace, around half a second off the pace, and move up a place when it comes to long runs, which means they should be in contention for good points this weekend.
EXCLUSIVE: Piastri on joining McLaren, leaving Alpine and making his F1 debut
5. Alpine bring more upgrades but have work to do
Alpine have had the edge on McLaren of late to sit a deserved fourth in the constructors’ championship, but it seems their papaya rivals have the edge around Zandvoort.
The Enstone team have consistently brought updates this year and that trend continued, with the team reporting they worked as expected and brought “a bit of extra performance”.
They’re not far off McLaren and Mercedes in race trim – but they have a lot to do in terms of qualifying trim, the blue cars 0.88s off the pace. There’s still one more practice session to work on that, though.
READ MORE: Alpine boss Szafnauer responds to CRB ruling and Piastri's 'bizarre and upsetting' comments