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Six-way scrap or four in a row for Verstappen?

Here are all of the key talking points ahead of the 2022 Dutch Grand Prix from Zandvoort

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Max Verstappen crushed the opposition at Spa-Francorchamps and has delivered a couple of big punches with two wins from 10th and 14th on the grid from the last two races.

But, there is a good chance the championship leader’s remarkable run might come to an end in front of his home crowd at the Dutch Grand Prix.

It’s shocking to think Charles Leclerc has won just three times this season after his second victory came in Melbourne back in April.

And what about Mercedes? On paper, this could be Lewis Hamilton‘s best chance in the remaining eight events to keep his streak of winning a race in every season he’s competed in alive.

More Dutch delight for Verstappen?

Verstappen‘s 2021 win on the return of the Dutch GP last year was one of the most impressive weekend performances of his career.

To soak up all of the pressure amid an incredibly intense title fight was spectacular and it’ll be hard to bet against the world champion.

He’s driving with so much confidence in a car that is developing at a rate of knots as Red Bull continue to lighten the RB18.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen during 2022 Belgian Grand Prix Pool via REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

But, it’s widely expected that Zandvoort will be a much closer affair, purely due to the track layout which is one of the least power sensitive on the 2022 calendar.

“Spa was amazing and better than expected,” Verstappen told the press. “The layout suited our car really well.

“If we nail our setup the car is going to be quick but it’s a bit of a question mark how quick it will be compared to others.

“It’s an efficient car and all season long we have been quick on the straights so with all the updates over the year we have got it into a better window.”

Zandvoort is all about the front end of the car due to the long radius corners and late apexes.

Earlier this year, this was a weakness of Red Bull although it seems they have got on top of this and are a match for Ferrari to get the front of the car turned in, enabling the driver to stand on the throttle pedal harder and earlier.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the pit lane during 2022 Belgian Grand Prix practice | REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Verstappen thinks it shouldn’t be an issue for Red Bull, hinting there handling problems in the first part of the season were down to the tyres.

“I think it just also a thing with the way the tyres are working at the moment, there is a bit of a general understeer in the car, which you just have to get used to,” said Verstappen.

“I think over time, it gets better and better. But, for sure, this track anyway, even last year, with of course, completely different tyres, with all the high-speed cornering, they get very hot around here.

“So you lose a bit of grip over the lap, and I expect it to be the same also this year, but again, that’s something you just have to try and deal with.”

Ferrari confident Spa was a one-off

Charles Leclerc, who is 97 points behind Verstappen with eight events remaining, has revealed Ferrari didn’t get everything out of the car in Belgium.

With a few days to understand where they went wrong and a technical track, Ferrari should return to the form they had before the summer break.

Carlos Sainz backed up teammate Leclerc‘s comments stating Ferrari have “learned a lot”.

“Spa was a great example of how an of weekend can change the perception so much in F1,” said Sainz.

“I don’t think we are as bad as we seem and I’m pretty sure that we can be back on from this weekend and be fighting again for pole and win.

“We’ve done 14 races this year and all of them there’s been a tenth [between the cars] and Spa is the only one where there was eight tenths.”

Unless Ferrari have been badly affected by the technical directive that was introduced at the Belgian GP, they should at the very least be right up there with Red Bull over one lap.

We know how good Leclerc is in qualifying and on a proper drivers’ track where the risk versus reward is higher than average, with gravel traps looming and waiting for a wide moment or misjudgement, Q3 promises to be thrilling.

The pure downforce from the F1-75 might give Ferrari the edge in qualifying, but race day is set to be a close strategic affair and that is when the pressure will really be on for lead strategist Inaki Rueda to get things right.

What are Mercedes’ chances?

From pole position one weekend to being 1.8 seconds behind at the next race, Mercedes do not understand their 2022 car which makes it very difficult to predict how competitive they will be this weekend.

In theory, the high emphasis on downforce should bring Mercedes into play but Lewis Hamilton has played things down.

“There are bits of it that are good, there is performance in there,” Hamilton told Sky Sports. “It’s just whether we can utilise that performance.

“You want a track that works on every single track we go to. The Red Bull generally seems to work in the majority of places.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton ahead of the 2022 Dutch Grand Prix REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw

“There’s loads of bits of this car that we would change [for next year] and I would change.”

Hamilton will use an older power unit at Zandvoort after his Spa engine lost water pressure and may not be repairable. Mercedes are investigating the extend of the damage and whether Hamilton will be forced to take a grid penalty before the end of the season.

The seven-time world champion has won a race in every season he’s competed in since making his F1 debut in 2007 and will be hoping to better Michael Schumacher who also was victorious for 15 years in a row between 1992 and 2006. Hamilton needs just one more to set a new record of 16 consecutive seasons with a win.

George Russell will be hoping to keep up a streak of his own as he has managed to finish every race he’s seen the chequered flag in the top five.

Zandvoort is a track where the drivers can make the difference but the tyres can too and it’s an area where Mercedes have struggled.

It seems they cannot find the sweet spot enough and when they do, Hamilton and Russell can match the top two teams.

Once out of that narrow operating window, as was the case in Spa qualifying, Mercedes are nowhere and are vulnerable to Alpine and McLaren.

Keep a close eye on how fast Hamilton and Russell‘s outlaps are in qualifying, if it’s dry.

Are AlphaTauri back on the pace?

AlphaTauri have been largely anonymous in 2022 but they finally hit back at Spa with a great showing from Pierre Gasly.

An electrical problem forced Gasly to start from the pit lane, however he came through the field wonderfully to score points for the first time since Azerbaijan and for the fourth time this season.

“To be back to scoring points is very welcome,” said AlphaTauri technical director Jody Egginton.

“But we are still making it harder than it needs to be, so there is still plenty of topics to focus on ahead of Zandvoort.”

Team principal Franz Tost added: “We hope now in the Netherlands to have a race weekend without any technical problems or PU changes so we can return to the performance that we had at the start of the season.”

Gasly had a phenomenal Dutch GP last year when he qualified on the second row and finished fourth.

But, that was 12 months ago and the cars have completely changed since then so it would be remarkable if he can get anywhere near a result like that this weekend.

Yuki Tsunoda is one of many drivers who are driving to save their F1 career. It’s been a much better season for Tsunoda in terms of raw pace, but he’s still making too many mistakes.

At Spa, he was on the verge of making Q3 but locked up at the Bus Stop chicane and ruined his lap. When the pressure is really on, Tsunoda hasn’t been able to cope.

Mick Schumacher is in a similar position and has been tight-lipped about his future after reports that Ferrari will cut ties with him at the end of this year, leaving it up to Haas as to whether they will retain the 2020 Formula 2 champion for next season.

More overtaking at Zandvoort?

The FIA will trial the use of DRS through the final banked corner which will increase the chances of overtaking into Turn 1. There’s no reason why this should be an issue so expect this to stay for the Grand Prix on Sunday.

One of the best aspects about Zandvoort is the banked Turn 3 which sees the drivers taking the outside line to keep up the minimum speed through the corner.

“It’s quite a unique corner in the sense that you can really use the banking,” said Aston Martin‘s Lance Stroll

“It’s one of those corners where it favours a bit of a higher line, with more banking, which is not really the natural approach to a corner where we go so high up and take that line.

“Then it makes the start really interesting as well, the first lap, as guys can really use the banking and go up high and vice versa.

“So, I think it’s been a cool addition to the track and a type of corner we don’t see very often.”

Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel in action during 2021 Dutch Grand Prix practice REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Turn 1 also sees the outside line work if two drivers are side by side, although it would be nice if it was a little wider so the attacking driver can make a late lunge.

It’s obvious the 2022 cars allow the drivers to follow each other much more closely but it will still be very difficult to make a move in the high-speed middle sector.

The Pirelli tyres will get severely punished around the 4.259km track, increasing the chances of a two-stop race, which is what we saw last year between Verstappen and Hamilton.

Track position is king at Zandvoort, but the undercut will be very powerful and making sure you come out of the pit lane in clean air will be key. This is where Hamilton and Mercedes made a mistake in 2021.

For the leaders, they will want to catch lapped traffic going onto the home straight so they can get DRS and a little slipstream, not in the twisty middle sector.

If the battle is tight between Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, it could get very messy if there’s lapped cars involved in the fight.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a race-long battle between two or more drivers at the front, the Dutch GP should be able to bring that to an end.

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