World champion and runaway series leader Max Verstappen stayed cool to ride his luck and claim a dramatic victory for Red Bull, as his rivals floundered with a series of tactical errors, in Sunday’s chaotic and unpredictable Dutch Grand Prix.
Amid wild celebrations at the packed Zandvoort circuit, with 105,000 orange-clad fans revelling in their hero’s triumph, the 24-year-old Dutchman took full advantage of his team’s calm decision-making in an incident-filled race to finish 4.071 seconds clear of Mercedes’ George Russell.
Charles Leclerc came home third for Ferrari and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton fourth in the second Mercedes, scant reward after what seemed a probable victory was taken away when he was left on cold, worn tyres as both Verstappen and Russell switched to softs during a late safety car intervention.
Exposed and unable to defend his position Hamilton was furious, but the sea of ebullient fans celebrated Verstappen’s good fortune as he passed Hamilton and pulled clear to claim a second successive Dutch triumph, a fourth consecutive win and his 10th of the season.
He now leads the championship with 310 points ahead of Leclerc and Perez each on 201 in the championship, making it possible for him to take his second drivers’ crown in Singapore on October 2.
“It’s always special to win your home race and this year I had to work for it even more,” said Verstappen.
“It wasn’t straightforward, but we pushed and we made the right calls,” said Verstappen.
“It’s worked out really well. An incredible weekend and really happy we got the Dutch win!”
– ‘I lost it for a second’ –
Hamilton, seeking a first win this year, was furious with Mercedes and launched an expletive-laden tirade over the team radio.
He later apologised to the team for his language, explaining that his emotions were running high and “the car was finally working. And I lost it for a second.”
Russell said: “I thought we had a chance to fight for victory and I’m sorry for Lewis. He drove a great race and as a team we deserved better.”
Leclerc said: “To be honest, we were a little unlucky with the VSC. I don’t know if this would have changed anything, but Max was too quick today. And then there was the Mercedes which were flying on the hard tyres.”
Ferrari not for the first time suffered with confused strategy calls and a bungled pit stop for Carlos Sainz.
“Oh my God,” said Sainz as his crew searched for an errant left-rear tyre. His stop cost 12 seconds as he went on to finish eighth, after taking a penalty for a pit-lane incident.
Verstappen had enjoyed a perfect getaway, cutting across from his 17th pole position to lead into the first corner followed by Leclerc and Sainz, who resisted a bruising charge from Hamilton.
On the tight track, with such a short lap, the action was intense. Leclerc pushed to stay in touch with the flying Dutchman, but by lap 12 was 1.7 seconds adrift.
After a series of pit stops Verstappen showed pace in pursuit of the Mercedes pair, running one and two for the first time this year.
To the delight of the ‘orange army’, Verstappen swept round Russell at Turn One on lap 27 to chase old foe Hamilton.
A virtual safety car (VSC) was deployed triggering another rash of stops.
Verstappen took hards, both Mercedes took mediums and the racing resumed on lap 50.
“Let’s go guys,” said Hamilton praising his team’s double-stacked stop before realising he was second, 12 seconds behind the champion.
“That VSC has stuffed us,” said Hamilton, knowing that instead of Verstappen having to pass him, it was he who had to pass the Dutchman with 18 laps to go.
A full safety car was then deployed when Valtteri Bottas parked his Alfa Romeo at the Turn One entry, prompting Red Bull to pit Verstappen again for softs, a move that put the Mercedes first and second again.
Racing resumed on lap 60, with 12 to go, and on his worn, cold medium tyres Hamilton had no defence as Verstappen, taking a tow, cruised past to lead again, and trigger jubilation at Zandvoort.