Formula 1 Preview: Netherlands
Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
After the lull of the summer break, Formula One has very much returned, the races coming thick and fast, with this week’s Dutch Grand Prix taking place at Circuit Zandvoort, just as in a year prior. Max Verstappen’s Orange Army will likely be out in full force, but can Ferrari, or even another team challenge Red Bull for the victory?
Circuit Zandvoort, host of the next instalment in this intriguing F1 season, has been around since 1948, and was yet another product of the post-war enthusiasm for motor racing. The track was initially set out on communication roads built during the war. Various races were held there until 1952, when the circuit held its first true Formula One race, and then remained a permanent fixture on the F1 calendar from 1958 to 1985. However, complaints of noise pollution for the local population, and reconstruction plans meant that the circuit was lost from the sport until 2020, when a planned return was scuppered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the Dutch Grand Prix made its welcome return last year, playing host to a gripping grand prix, with the backdrop of a dramatic championship battle between home-favourite Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
Fans of motorsport are fans of this track too, with the steep banking in some corners comparing the experience of driving the track to riding on a rollercoaster. The Formula 1 drivers themselves very much enjoy the track too, with many having raced around it in their junior careers, highlighting that this is a proper driver's circuit. The track is 4.259km (2.646 miles) long, and the lap record was unsurprisingly set last year, with the speed of the modern cars, by Hamilton: A time of 1:11:097. There are two DRS (Drag Reduction System) zones, the first one along the start-finish straight, and the other coming after Turn 10. However, the circuit is designed in such a way to necessitate brave overtakes into corners, as it is notoriously tricky to overtake on.
With the track having made its return to the sport only last year, we don’t have much of an idea as to who is going to thrive or struggle this weekend, but we do know that Verstappen will be buoyed by the rapturous home support that was ever-present throughout the whole of last year’s Dutch Grand Prix. However, the track should supposedly suit Mercedes as well, as evidenced by last year’s double podium for the Silver Arrows, while Pierre Gasly will hope to leave behind the results of the season so far and push on from his highly impressive fourth place finish in the 2021 Dutch Grand Prix. Alpine also had an impressive showing in that race too, beating out both McLaren cars, while Ferrari picked up some solid points too. Sergio Perez will surely be hoping to exceed his finish of eighth last year, while Haas will be hunting for points after a driver switch, and a more competitive car from their dismal 2021 season.
Last weekend in Belgium saw a dominant display from the Red Bull team, with Verstappen leading a comfortable 1-2, despite starting from 14th on the grid. Their pace was on another planet compared to that of Ferrari and the rest of the grid, as the Italian outfit continued their disastrous strategy calls, which cost Charles Leclerc a position right at the end. The team is in a rough patch as of late, as they need to recover from another tough weekend to have any hope of challenging for either title. Mercedes pace had dropped off somewhat from their previous podium streak, with George Russell up there but never really challenging for the win, while Alpine looked to have secured the edge over McLaren in the fight for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, through a strong double points finish. This was in stark contrast to McLaren’s zero point weekend. Sebastian Vettel, Gasly, and Alex Albon all picked up hard-earned points in the race for their respective teams, and will look to build on this successful result, while it was a poor weekend for the other Ferrari-powered teams too, with Alfa Romeo and Haas languishing at the back of the field.
Looking at the direction towards which the season seems to be heading, there can surely be only one winner in the Netherlands: Max Verstappen. The army of his supporters will boost him once again, and it would take a monumental effort from either Ferrari or Mercedes to usurp him to the top step of the podium. Those two teams will likely battle it out for the podium, along with Sergio Perez and maybe even the two Alpines, while the unpredictability of the midfield this season will leave the points positions up for grabs. Nevertheless, the 2022 Dutch Grand Prix will certainly be an exciting one, and one not to be missed by the F1 community.