Formula 1‘s traditional summer break is nearly over and the drivers will be put straight back into the deep end at Zandvoort for the 2023 Dutch Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen is looking to continue his dominance.
The Dutch GP returned to F1 in 2021 after a 36-year absence and Verstappen has been unbeaten in his backyard – a trend which everyone expects to continue this weekend.
Ten rounds remain and more records are ready to be broken for Verstappen including the most podiums, wins and points. He’s on a run of eight consecutive victories too, one short of Sebastian Vettel‘s record set in 2013.
Red Bull look unstoppable and for the 13th time this season we ask the question: can anyone end their winning streak?
After Sergio Perez beat Verstappen on merit at the 2023 Azerbaijan GP in April, the Dutchman has been in a league of his own. He’s driving beautifully and it seems like nothing will get in his way.
Verstappen has already shown he can perform at his best on home soil, so pressure is not really an issue. In 2021, he brilliantly held off Lewis Hamilton and did so again 12 months later, albeit it was slightly easier.
Qualifying is vital at Zandvoort because it’s difficult to overtake, yet Verstappen has demonstrated tremendous speed when it matters most in front of the Orange Army. Mistakes are a rarity and when they do happen, he recovers.
“It’s one of my favourite places to be and to win, of course, is always very special here so for sure that’s the target for the weekend,” said Verstappen.
“We just try to keep on doing the same thing, that would be nice but of course after a break you never know how you get back into things, also at the track, and also the weather what is forecasted, I think it’s always a bit more tricky.
“But we’ll see, we have a quick car but it’s again about putting everything together to have a really strong weekend.”
Aston Martin upgrades
Aston Martin were overhauled by Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari to an extent before the summer break. They have brought a new aerodynamics package to the car and could be back in the hunt at Zandvoort.
During the early part of the 2023 season, you would say Zandvoort is a track Aston Martin should thrive at, but it’s hard to be so sure now after they appeared to go the wrong way with their development.
Fernando Alonso took two impressive sixth places at the Dutch GP in 2021 and 2022, so enjoys the high-speed challenge Zandvoort provides.
“We hope to get a clear direction, not only for this year but also for next year in terms of direction on the car,” said Alonso on the new upgrades.
“I think in in Canada we brought some new parts as well, and Silverstone and now these new aerodynamic parts that we bring here, hopefully, add the performance we expect.
“I think we are like playing in Champions League at the moment and we are finding ourselves with the very top teams, trying to over develop off-track and this is going to be the biggest challenge for Aston Martin now.”
Confusion at Ferrari
The phrase understanding the car is being bounced around Maranello because the team simply do not understand why their car is so “peaky” as Carlos Sainz has described.
On soft tyres, with low fuel and in the right conditions – the 2023 Ferrari is very quick, as good as Red Bull. But the operating window is so narrow that they have often been the fourth or even fifth fastest car.
In Budapest, Ferrari‘s high-downforce package was poor, so they will be desperately hoping for an improvement this weekend.
“The mood is basically trying to understand as much as possible about this year’s car,” said Sainz, who will be replaced by Robert Shwartzman in the opening practice session.
“We are FP1s, FP2s every weekend trying something different, you know, to try and understand these regulations and to try to see where we may be lacking compared to, obviously, the reference Red Bull and how we can make the 2024 car quicker.
“We are also spending a lot of time in the simulator, trying different things. Spending more time than ever really on getting the season turned around and putting everything that we can into place to get ourselves in a better place for next year mainly.”
McLaren and Mercedes to challenge Red Bull?
McLaren are sensational in the quick corners and Zandvoort is nearly all high-speed turns, so Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri could be up there in qualifying.
It was Hamilton who took pole position when it mattered in Hungary and the seven-time world champion could have won at Zandvoort in 2022 if it was not for an untimely safety car.
Hamilton, who is yet to sign a new contract with Mercedes for 2024 and beyond, is in a buoyant mood ahead of the on-track action.
“For us to be second in the constructors’ championship, considering how others have started this year, like how McLaren are doing that big turnaround, Aston, who came out the blocks really great,” said Hamilton.
“I think it’s pretty amazing and that’s down to all these amazing people back in at the factory and the crew that we have here, and also the drivers do not do a bad job.
“My goal is to try and make sure the team keep them, keep that second place in the championship and try and hunt down second in the drivers’ championship – that’s my goal, so that’ll be fun.”
Norris added: “This track is a little bit back in line with Buadpest, so there is no reason why we can’t continue with where we were prior to Spa.
“I think Spa was a bit of an outlier with efficiency, which we just didn’t have, because so much time and effort has been put into making the car good for 90 percent of the circuits rather than the other 10 percent, which includes Spa.
“I think so [on winning a race], you’ve got to have a lot of luck or something’s got to happen to Max from a reliability point of view for it to happen.
“I think it’s going to be hard for us to win at this point, I don’t have the confidence to say that we can race him outright.”
A proper challenge
So many modern F1 tracks have been made less challenging due to increased run-off areas, but Zandvoort‘s return came with that old-school feeling of a real driver’s challenge.
The high-speed turns see the drivers hang on as they throw the car into the corner and hope they have enough grip and downforce to not slide or spin. Add some long radius corners in there and the tyres get seriously punished.
It’s a tight circuit too, so the barriers are not far away and there’s grave on the edge of track limits in most places.
Rain is also expected on Saturday and Sunday, with a higher chance of wet weather for the race, which will only separate the good from them great even more.
The track action is an hour earlier than normal this weekend, aside from Sunday’s sessions, so FP1 begins at 11.30 UK time and qualifying on Saturday is at 2pm.