RACE DEBRIEF

    Max Verstappen is the driver to beat as Formula 1 returns to Zandvoort for the 2022 Dutch Grand Prix – but after he dominated last weekend's race at Spa, will it be so simple for the reigning champion this weekend? Fans on the official F1 predictor game, F1 Play, certainly think so...

    Vying for pole

    Verstappen's pace at Spa-Francorchamps was alarming for the whole field, many of whom predicted the championship leader to win the race – even from 14th on the grid, thanks mostly to his towering qualifying pace that netted him P1 before grid penalties came into play.

    But Zandvoort is an entirely different challenge for the drivers, as the Dutch circuit requires more downforce, particularly through its winding opening sector, and overtaking is more difficult.

    However, Verstappen is the only driver in the current era to have taken pole at Zandvoort, his home track, having done so in 2021. The Dutchman said he didn't expect his Belgian GP margin to stay intact here – and he could be right.

    RACE HIGHLIGHTS: All the action from the first Dutch GP in 36 years as Verstappen wins his home race

    1418789192
    Sainz started on pole in Belgium, as grid penalties dropped Verstappen to P14

    Ferrari have been rapid on certain higher-downforce circuits, particularly in qualifying, as Charles Leclerc took pole in Monaco and Australia – although it was George Russell who aced qualifying in Hungary.

    So, if Verstappen's pace advantage doesn't quite hold up here, we could conceivably have a tight battle for pole position. Belgium this is not; expect the Dutchman to have a tougher time in qualifying this weekend.

    Keep an eye on the skies too: early forecasts hint at a small chance of rain throughout the weekend.

    READ MORE: How Red Bull engineered the RB18 to dominate at Spa

    Pole position in 2021:

    • Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

    FAN VIEW: Those incredible comeback victories in Hungary and Belgium have convinced F1 Play gamers that there is little point in voting against Max Verstappen, for anything. The Dutchman already has more than 80% of the vote to be fastest over a single lap in front of his fans at Zandvoort.

    1418499663
    Verstappen not only went fastest in qualifying last weekend, but took pole here at Zandvoort in 2021

    In the mix for victory

    Grid penalties aren't quite the concern this weekend as they were in Spa, particularly as this winding circuit isn't as easy to overtake on as Spa. However, both Mercedes drivers are on the verge of taking grid penalties, with Hamilton also at risk of needing new engine components due to his crash early in Belgium, as are Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, the Aston Martins, and both Williams drivers.

    It's still fair to call Verstappen favourite for victory here in the Netherlands, as he won last year's Dutch Grand Prix by over 20 seconds and lapped everyone but the Mercedes.

    Of course, Ferrari are stronger this season and Mercedes have threatened to come back, too. If Hungary is a decent barometer for success at Zandvoort, then Mercedes might feel confident given their double podium at the Hungaroring. If things fall their way, Ferrari and Mercedes will be able to threaten Verstappen – this might well be a closer contest than last weekend's, and last year's...

    READ MORE: Wolff concedes Verstappen ‘in a league of his own’ as he urges Mercedes to recover from Spa ‘depression’

    Winner in 2021:

    • Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

    FAN VIEW: The Verstappen landslide is even more apparent here with almost 90% of gamers backing him to top the podium for the 10th time in a glorious 2022 season so far for the reigning world champion. None of his rivals make even the slightest ripple in the voting so far. It’s Max, Max and more Max. Max to the max, in fact.

    1418809661
    With a new engine, Leclerc will be raring to bounce back this weekend

    Podium outsiders

    Red Bull might hold the cards but Mercedes will be chomping at the bit to spoil their party, and while a win is a long shot, a podium is not.

    Hungary isn't the only race in which Mercedes excelled, the Silver Arrows having recently put on sterling displays in France, Austria, Great Britain, Canada and Azerbaijan.

    READ MORE: 6 Winners and 5 Losers from the Belgian Grand Prix – Who shone in the Spa sunshine?

    And let's not forget that Ferrari are still very much in the fight, despite their deficit to Red Bull looking more like a chasm in Belgium. They should be closer to the front this weekend, and it'd be unfair to call them outsiders.

    As Lando Norris is the only non-Ferrari/Red Bull/Mercedes driver to take a podium this season, he'll be hoping for an outside chance of the top three this weekend. Pierre Gasly has previous at Zandvoort with P4 last season, and Fernando Alonso has been on a solid run of scores – Alpine looking 'best of the rest' in recent weekends.

    READ MORE: Red Bull 'were on another planet’ in Spa says Sainz, as he implores Ferrari to improve for remaining Grands Prix

    Podiums in 2021:

    • Red Bull – 1
    • Mercedes – 2

    FAN VIEW: Very much the usual suspects here, with drivers from the three leading teams registering most of the F1 Play. There is a tiny bit of love for two-time world champion Fernando Alonso after he produced another fine drive to claim P5 at Spa on Sunday. Bar that, it is tumbleweed when it comes to interlopers.

    1412019774
    Hamilton took P2 in Hungary – can he take another one here?

    Points potential

    Alpine, again, will be aiming for a double-points finish this weekend and Belgium, where Alonso managed to beat Charles Leclerc to P5 and Esteban Ocon took P7, only underlined the team's credentials for P4 in the championship.

    AlphaTauri ended a five-race point-less streak as Gasly took P9 at Spa and, as mentioned, he managed P4 here last time out. As for McLaren, Belgium was just the fourth time they left a circuit without points in 2022 and the team will surely be primed to bounce back at Zandvoort.

    READ MORE: Belgian GP performance ‘nothing to be proud of’ says Norris after point-less outing for McLaren at Spa

    Alfa Romeo haven't enjoyed Sundays in recent weeks, with five-straight non-scores, and Valtteri Bottas might be in with a chance of a top-10 at this high-downforce arena after his unfortunate Lap 1 retirement at Spa.

    Sebastian Vettel was also strong last time out and the Aston Martin driver could well make it three top 10s in three races here.

    Points in 2021:

    • Mercedes – 34
    • Red Bull – 29
    • Ferrari – 16
    • AlphaTauri – 12
    • Alpine – 10
    • McLaren – 1

    FAN VIEW: Alonso of course is expected by F1 Play gamers to score again in Zandvoort, and there is also some nice support for his Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon. Sebastian Vettel is fancied to grab more points as his F1 farewell tour continues, while Alex Albon of Williams is also hauling in some votes after that fine P10 in Belgium.