Feature F1 Unlocked
PRACTICE DEBRIEF: Can any of Verstappen’s rivals spoil his home party at Zandvoort?
It was back to business for Formula 1’s fraternity as Zandvoort played host to the third running of the Dutch Grand Prix since its return to the calendar. The place was packed with Max Verstappen’s loyal and passionate orange army – and they were rewarded with another commanding show of speed from the championship leader.
But there were some hints that maybe, just maybe, he won’t have it all his own way on home soil. Here’s what we learned in Friday practice.
Red Bull pick up where they left off
Verstappen arrived at his home race as overwhelming favourite to achieve a record-equalling ninth Grand Prix win in a row and his performance on Friday did little to dispel that tag – even if he didn’t end up fastest.
The double world champion was very quick on all compounds of tyres – and even though he felt he could improve the balance in some of the corners, he was still happy enough to declare himself confident the team will be ahead this weekend.
If he completed a lap with all his best mini-sectors, he would have had the quickest time of the day, according to our ideal lap data.
Their advantage doesn’t seem to be as great as it’s been in recent races, though. In qualifying trim, they are 0.22s clear of Mercedes. When they dumped fuel in, they were 0.26s clear of Aston.
They hold an advantage on the rest in the high-speed turns, have a small deficit to McLaren in the medium-speed corners and are around a tenth of a second adrift of Mercedes in the slow-speed stuff.
McLaren’s resurgence appears set to continue
Lando Norris was in imperious form at Zandvoort, the Briton setting the quickest time of all in second practice, edging out home favourite Verstappen.
While repeating the feat when it matters in qualifying on Saturday and then the race on Sunday might be a step too far, there’s no doubt that this McLaren is working incredible well on a short track that bunches the field up.
McLaren are within three tenths of a second in qualifying trim and just over 0.3s behind on the long runs, which according to our data puts them in contention for the front two rows of the grid and a podium come Sunday.
The day was slightly overshadowed by Oscar Piastri’s crash, which robbed him of vital running in FP2. It was the Australian’s first big accident since making his debut this year and he seemed hopeful about shaking it off and cracking on with making the most of what looks like a quick car.
Ferrari struggle on first day back
Neither Charles Leclerc nor team mate Carlos Sainz (who missed FP1 as reserve Robert Shwartzman carried out driving duties as part of the rule for each team to run a young driver in at least two practice sessions) looked particularly comfortable around the undulating turns of Zandvoort.
They’re way down in seventh in our qualifying simulations, more than half a second off the pace, and only marginally quicker in race trim – though their high fuel running does put them two spots higher in fifth.
According to our data, they were more than half a second slower than McLaren – the worst of all teams – in the slower speed corners but quickest of all on the straights (around 0.3s clear).
This suggests they don’t have enough downforce with their current set-up to be competitive around here, so expect them to adjust it quite a bit in the simulator overnight and in FP3 to move themselves into the mix.
Williams haul themselves into contention
Williams weren’t sure they would be able to force themselves into the top-10 picture this weekend, but their performance on Friday – particularly with Alex Albon behind the wheel – got a lot of people talking in the paddock.
They were seventh quickest in terms of race pace, but sixth-best in qualifying trim, just 0.07s adrift of Aston Martin in fourth. That puts them right in the mix for a shot at Q3 and a chance for points on a track where it is tough to overtake, especially because the surface off-line is very sandy courtesy of the wind and adjacent beach.
Encouragingly for the team, the car looked like a great all rounder at Zandvoort, having seemingly gained more performance in the corners and relying less on straight-line speed.
Albon was keen not to get ahead of himself, but the fact he said the car felt good from the first lap and the long run felt decent bodes well. And with the pack behind Red Bull expected to be tighter, if you nail a good lap, the rewards could be huge.
Mercedes are in the ballpark
Mercedes were pretty strong around Zandvoort last year – and it appears they are right in the mix once again, with George Russell saying it was definitely “one of our better Fridays” and Lewis Hamilton adding “the car is feeling more competitive here”.
If everyone had put all their best mini-sectors together, Hamilton would have moved up a spot to third in the classification, the Silver Arrow looking very strong in the slow-speed corners that litter the Dutch track.
They are Red Bull’s closest challenger when it comes to one-lap pace, according to our data, with a 0.22s deficit, but one of three teams who are around three tenths of a second off the pace set by Red Bull when the fuel was piled in.
The team were happy with their performance on the medium tyre but accepted they have work to do with the soft. And while they know they need to find consistency on the long runs, the pace “looks to be there”, leaving the team encouraged for the weekend ahead.