Feature F1 Unlocked
Verstappen chasing another record and Lawson’s F1 debut – What To Watch For in the Dutch Grand Prix
From another record on the horizon for Max Verstappen to a debutant facing a tough challenge; and from Williams chasing a big result to Lewis Hamilton out of position, Chris Medland highlights some of the key things to look out for on race day at Zandvoort…
1. Verstappen chasing another record
The 2023 season has been a record-breaking one for Red Bull already, with the team becoming the most successful in terms of consecutive victories. But another record – currently held by one of their former drivers – is within touching distance for Max Verstappen on Sunday.
Sebastian Vettel currently has the benchmark of consecutive wins for a driver with nine in a row, and Verstappen sits on eight after his sensational run of form prior to the summer break.
And securing pole position at his home race has put him in the best place to match Vettel in front of his adoring fans in Zandvoort.
But it’s one of Verstappen’s closest friends on the grid who actually poses the biggest threat to his attempt, with Lando Norris lining up second on Sunday as McLaren’s impressive turnaround in form continues.
Norris looked to be in the frame for pole until the very end of qualifying and has already beaten Verstappen off the line at Silverstone earlier this year, so a repeat when the lights go out could make life difficult for the championship leader on a track that is tricky to overtake on.
2. Albon hunting a big result from the second row
Directly behind Norris is a driver who was certainly not expecting to be lining up on the second row this weekend.
On Thursday, Alex Albon described Zandvoort as in “the bottom fifth” of tracks that are suited to Williams this season, and stated the only thing that could help them would be the direction of the wind as a headwind into Turn 9 and Turn 11 would play into their hands.
At times that has been what Albon and Williams have got, but they have been quick throughout the weekend in every session, and fourth on the grid is his best qualifying position since joining the team from Red Bull at the start of 2022. He’s in elite company, alongside George Russell and one spot ahead of Fernando Alonso as six different teams filled the top six gird positions.
It wasn’t just Albon who was quick this weekend though, with Logan Sargeant reaching Q3 for the first time, and becoming the first American to qualify in the top ten in 30 years. Sargeant crashed on his second timed lap in Q3 on a drying track to put a slight dent in his weekend, but he still has a chance of picking up his first F1 points on Sunday.
3. Hamilton fighting back through the field
One thing that the statistic of six different constructors on the first three rows suggests is a mixed-up order where some quick cars are out of position – and one of those is Lewis Hamilton.
The Mercedes driver was struggling with traffic on multiple occasions in qualifying and after being impeded by Yuki Tsunoda in Q2 he was unable to set a quick enough lap time to advance, dropping out in 13th place.
Tsunoda was handed a three-place grid penalty for the incident that will see him start from 17th, but that doesn’t help Hamilton who will now look to launch a recovery drive on Sunday at a circuit where he was looking particularly quick on Friday – and where, a year ago, he was in the frame for victory.
If Hamilton needs any encouragement then the weekend has seen numerous red flags and interruptions so far – in both wet and dry conditions – which suggests there could well be Safety Car periods and incidents that open up opportunities for progress.
4. Lawson’s debut
It didn’t take long for drama to strike after the season resumed with track action on Friday, as Oscar Piastri and Daniel Ricciardo crashed early in FP2 – and the latter came off worst. Ricciardo came across the stricken McLaren at Turn 3 and ended up in the wall rather than risk making contact with another car, but didn’t get his hand off the steering wheel in time and broke a metacarpal.
The injury will rule him out for a number of weeks, and Red Bull junior Liam Lawson got the nod to replace the Australian after discussions about a return for former AlphaTauri driver Nyck de Vries. It was always going to be a tall order for the rookie to get up to speed in just one practice session, and his cause wasn’t helped by FP3 being completely wet.
After qualifying 20th – a respectable 1.4 seconds away from Q2 – on a still-wet track, Lawson will now tackle his first ever Grand Prix start on a particularly challenging circuit, as the multiple incidents so far this weekend have shown.
Simply seeing the chequered flag without a major incident would represent a success for the 21-year-old, who has yet to complete a dry lap in the 2023 AlphaTauri and needs the vital mileage in a current F1 car to build up his experience ahead of a likely second outing at Monza next weekend.
5. More rain on the way
There have been a number of races this season that have come with a threat of rain at some point, and we’re facing more of the same at Zandvoort this weekend.
Thursday saw plenty of heavy showers to welcome everyone back to a Grand Prix after the mid-season break, although Friday was a warm and dry day that allowed solid practice running for the teams.
But Saturday was a very different story once again, with heavy rain throughout the morning leading to a crash-strewn FP3, and further rain ensuring that slick tyres were not used until the final part of qualifying.
At this stage, there is a high chance of more wet weather on Sunday, although the biggest threat is during the morning and then reducing as we get closer to the start of the race, with a low likelihood of further showers during the Grand Prix itself.