Max Verstappen secured his tenth victory of the season and his fourth in a row with victory at the Dutch Grand Prix, to move even closer to his second world championship.
A late Safety Car had the potential to mix up the order, but Lewis Hamilton was powerless to stop the Dutchman overtaking on the restart, with victory at Zandvoort putting Verstappen 109 points ahead in the championship with seven rounds remaining. George Russell took second place to secure his best finish of the season, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc coming home in third.
In the end, it was a fairly straightforward victory for Verstappen, but there was a real possibility that Mercedes could have taken their first win of the season, as Hamilton and Russell looked to make a one-stop work. However, a virtual safety car caused by the Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsunoda made Verstappen a favourite for the win.
A safety car caused by Valtteri Bottas’ stricken Alfa Romeo looked like it might have brought Mercedes back into the fight for the win, as Hamilton and Russell both initially stayed out on their old mediums. Russell made the call to come in a lap later for a set of soft tyres, and this turned out to be crucial for the Brit. Hamilton stayed out on the mediums, with the seven-time champion fuming at the decision not to pit for fresh rubber.
At the start, Verstappen and Leclerc got away evenly, allowing the Dutchman to keep the lead into Turn One. Things were tighter behind as Carlos Sainz and Hamilton made slight contact at the apex, but both were able to continue. Further down the field, Kevin Magnussen made contact with the barrier on lap two, but the Haas was able to continue, albeit with a lot more paint on the sidewall on his rear-left tyre.
Most people expected the softs and the mediums to be the chosen race tyres, with a two-stop therefore being the only viable option. However, both Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris were able to make the white-walled tyres work to good effect opening up the possibility of a one-stop strategy. Mercedes took this gamble, and it looked as though it was going to be a fascinating end to the race, as Verstappen would have had to work his way past both Hamilton and Russell.
Despite showing promising pace on Saturday and at the start of the race, Ferrari were clearly the third fastest car on race day, with Leclerc only taking third at the end thanks to the advantage of fresh soft tyres. His teammate had a much more eventful day, coming home eighth after being given a 5-second penalty for an unsafe release, forcing his compatriot Alonso to slam on the brakes. That wasn’t the only pit lane peril for Sainz, as he dropped back from third after Ferrari only had three tyres ready for his first stop, in yet another calamity for the Scuderia which will only add more pressure to beleaguered team boss Mattia Binotto. The Spaniard also came close to being penalised for overtaking under yellow flags, but it appeared he had already committed to the move on Esteban Ocon into Turn One before reaching the first yellow flag.
The main talking points of the race began on lap 46, as Yuki Tsunoda stopped at the side of the track, claiming his tyres weren’t fitted correctly. He was told to continue on, and the Japanese driver came back to the pits at a severely reduced pace, before having a long pit stop to seemingly refasten his seatbelts, which is certain to be investigated by the FIA. He was released on to the circuit only to stop a few corners later, bringing out the VSC which greatly benefitted Alpha Tauri’s sister team.
Verstappen’s victory was put in doubt by the later full safety car (due to Bottas’ retirement), but the speed and tyre advantage of the Red Bull meant Hamilton had no chance of stopping him. A furious Hamilton managed to hold on to finish in fourth place ahead of Sergio Perez, with whom he had had a fascinating battle in the middle of the race which got interrupted by Sebastian Vettel, who impeded the Brit and earned himself a five-second penalty in what was a weekend to forget for the Aston Martin driver.
Fernando Alonso came home in sixth ahead of Lando Norris, who looked for the majority of the race that he would finish best of the rest before losing out in the pitstops. Esteban Ocon was ninth, helping tighten Alpine’s grip on fourth in the championship, with Lance Stroll securing his fifth tenth place of the season to round out the points. Gasly, Albon, Schumacher, Vettel, Magnussen, Zhou, Ricciardo and Latifi were the rest of the finishers.
They say it’s not over until the fat lady sings, but her vocal cords must be warming up by now. It is surely a case of when, not if, Verstappen secures his second world championship, and in much less controversial circumstances than his first. The Italian GP at Monza is taking place next weekend, and you’d be a brave man to bet against the Dutchman spoiling Ferrari’s homecoming party.