Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Meghana Sree
Do not scratch your eyes: Formula 1 is back. After a long four weeks of recovery and relaxation, the drivers will now vie for supremacy at the Dutch Grand Prix, in front of a frantic army of Max Verstappen supporters. So, who can navigate the orange smoke and take victory at Zandvoort? This very weekend shall tell.
The cars will line up to start the race on the Circuit Zandvoort’s only real straight, before they all try to make up a position or two into the famous banked Tarzan corner. The tight, narrow run of the Gerlach and Hugenholtz corners soon follow, leading into an impressively high-speed set of twists and turns up until the first DRS (Drag Reduction System) zone of the lap. The Hans Ernst Chicane forces the drivers into heavy braking, before they can gradually build up their speed again with the aid of DRS through the high-adrenaline, steeply banked final corner.
The regular Grand Prix format makes its return this weekend, after a Spa Sprint weekend last time out. This format will continue until the next Sprint weekend in October at Qatar.
Schedule (in BST)
Practice 1 - Friday, 11:30 am
Practice 2 - Friday, 15:00 pm
Practice 3 - Saturday, 10:30 am
Qualifying - Saturday, 14:00 pm
Race - Sunday, 14:00 pm
While Friday seems to be warm and dry, it may not represent the conditions of the competitive sessions. Lower temperatures and moderate chances of rain are forecasted for both Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race, so don’t rule out the unpredictability of changing weather to mix things up.
Major Talking Points
Resumption of Red Bull Dominance - With a four week period to potentially break up Red Bull’s rhythm and utter dominance of the 2023 season, could we see any other teams arrive at Zandvoort with an equal or faster car?
Max Mania - As we’ve seen in previous years, the overwhelming support and frenzy for Verstappen at Zandvoort has been synonymous with the Dutchman’s dominance here, so what might happen if it somehow isn’t him that takes the chequered flag?
The Battle Behind - The summer break fell right when the battle behind Red Bull was getting incredibly competitive, with McLaren, Mercedes, and Ferrari all desperate to close the gap to the Bulls. So, who will come out on top this weekend?
The Circuit Zandvoort in Years Gone By
Having first appeared on the F1 calendar in 1952, dominated by the legendary Alberto Ascari, this high-octane circuit has flirted with the sport ever since. Memorable moments include when fierce rivals Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet Jr collided in 1983, with no little controversy. 1985 saw Niki Lauda rise to the challenge of holding off the charging Prost to take victory, before the circuit was dropped off the calendar due to a lack of funds for necessary safety renovations. However, despite a brief delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Zandvoort made its welcome return in 2021, redefined by the “Orange Army” filling the stands and surrounding area to support their home hero Verstappen, who did not disappoint them.
Last Race Recap
Before the summer break, it was the Belgian Grand Prix in which Verstappen confidently overcame a five-place penalty for a gearbox change to take a comfortable victory, leading home his teammate Sergio Perez to sum up the team’s dominance over the season so far. A first-lap collision between Carlos Sainz and Oscar Piastri eventually knocked both drivers out of contention, while Charles Leclerc had a better time of it to claim the final podium spot. Lando Norris held on to an impressive seventh, in a more difficult weekend for McLaren than in recent races, and Yuki Tsunoda claimed a vital point for the AlphaTauri team.
Drivers to Watch
Max Verstappen - Home Hero
Any prediction other than a Verstappen victory would look crazy, considering both the lightning pace of the Dutchman this season, and his unfaltering form at Zandvoort since its return to the calendar. His adoring fans will be turning up in their thousands with every expectation of a roaring celebration come Sunday.
George Russell - One Better
If any team can match the Red Bulls this weekend, it is most likely going to be Mercedes, who had Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finish as the runners up here in 2021 and 2022 respectively. Hamilton finished 20 seconds behind in his title-challenging 2021 season, while Russell only lost out by four seconds last year. It hasn’t been the easiest season for the young Brit, but he will be hoping to turn his fortunes around and go one better this weekend.
The Other Contenders
After finally doing his job to secure a 1-2 finish for Red Bull in Belgium, Perez will want to turn that result into a run of form, starting out with a challenge on his teammate on his home soil. It will be intriguing to see whether McLaren can continue their own pursuit of Red Bull, or whether it was just a fluke few races, so don’t rule out Norris or Piastri for a shock result this weekend either. Ferrari meanwhile are always there or thereabouts, but any real challenge seems out of the question amid this pretty lacklustre season for the Prancing Horse.
Of course, a win for Verstappen seems inevitable, and I can see a repeat of the Red Bull 1-2 at Spa very much on the cards as well. The final podium spot is definitely up for grabs once again, but my money is on Russell to outpace his teammate this weekend, with the McLarens and the Ferraris a little further back. Fernando Alonso has always driven strongly around Zandvoort so expect to see him in the points, and maybe even a return to the top ten for the new Alpha Tauri driver Daniel Ricciardo.
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