Max Verstappen has retaken the lead in the Formula Drivers’ Championship, beating Lewis Hamilton at his home Dutch GP in front of one of the most passionate crowds the sport has ever seen.
The Netherlands hasn’t hosted a race since 1985, with anticipation only building after Zandvoort’s return to the calendar last year was curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Oranje fans were in full attendance as Verstappen took the win[/caption]
The country has seen 14 of its drivers compete in F1, including Verstappen’s father Jos, but none had achieved either a win or a pole position until the junior Verstappen entered the fray in 2015.
And the support for their hero couldn’t have been more impressive, with the 70,000-strong crowd a sea of orange for the 23-year-old Red Bull driver.
Verstappen took pole position from Hamilton around the tight and twisty seaside track on Saturday, and after aggressively pointing his tyres over to the Brit for the race start, he kept his lead into the first corner.
Strategy came into play with the help of Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas in third place, but Verstappen’s unrelenting 2021 form kept him ahead of the pair.
Verstappen led Hamilton into the first corner and quickly opened up a gap[/caption]
Mercedes tried to undercut the Dutchman by pitting first with Hamilton, before using Bottas to back him into his World Championship rival.
Neither tactic stopped Verstappen’s charge to become the first driver from the Netherlands to win in front of their home crowd.
The noise from his supporters only increased as Verstappen continually fought off whatever Mercedes threw at him, with orange smoke from flares covering the track as the 72 laps came to an end.
“The expectations here were so high and that’s not always easy,” Verstappen said of his seventh win of the season.
“But it’s an amazing feeling and the crowd here were incredible as you can see.
“We can be really pleased with the whole team’s performance today.”
Hamilton, who now trails Verstappen in the championship by three points, suggested he should start calling his rival Noah, due to traffic parting after their second pit stops.
Verstappen continues to make history for the Netherlands in Formula 1[/caption]
But the seven-time champion said a win was impossible, saying: “What a race, what a crowd, it’s been an amazing weekend.
“I gave it absolutely everything today, flat out, I pushed as hard as I could, but Max was just too quick for us.
“Max did an amazing job, so huge congratulations to him..”
At one point it looked like the biggest threat to Verstappen would be Hamilton’s teammate Bottas, who had pitted a lap less than the title challengers, and there was even more late drama to come from the Finn.
Third-placed Bottas was called into the pits to allow Hamilton a buffer to stop again and secure an extra championship point for the fastest lap, but Bottas then defied team orders to take the quickest time, before Hamilton snatched it back as the chequered flag fell.
Alpha Tauri driver and 2020 Monza race-winner Pierre Gasly impressively held onto his fourth-place qualifying position, but was beaten to Driver of the Day by Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who drove from 19th to eighth position.