Verstappen beats Norris to pole in wet Dutch GP qualifying

Max Verstappen always looked in control of the fluctuating conditions at Zandvoort to take pole position for Red Bull in tomorrow’s Dutch Grand Prix, ending with a margin of half a second over McLaren’s Lando Norris.

Mercedes’ George Russell will line up on the second row of the grid alongside Williams driver Alex Albon in a session that started on a wet track but soon started to dry, with Q3 run on slicks but still suffering from two red flag stoppages

Logan Sargeant triggered one after crashing in the Williams, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc causing the other. Lewis Hamilton will start from P13 after traffic meant he missed out on improving with his crucial final Q2 lap.

  • 2023 Dutch Grand Prix – Qualifying results

Wet and windy weather had made for a lively final practice earlier in the day with plenty of drivers caught out – including but by no means limited to Kevin Magnussen, Zhou Guanyu and new boy Liam Lawson who all triggered brief red flag stoppages. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had been predictably fastest of anyone despite the odd skim across the gravel of his own, but after that the order was pretty much a lottery dependant on what the track conditions were like when they were making their fastest runs. George Russell, Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Alex Albon had all been lucky enough to finish in the top ten, while Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz both looked to be struggling.

But this was little indication of how the drivers would fare in qualifying. There had been another downpour since final practice which had forced the F2 sprint race to be red flagged, but conditions were drier and brighter as the cars lined up for Q1, with hints of blue skies on display for the orange-clad fans in the grandstands to admire. However the track was still wet – very wet in places – meaning that more incidents were very much on the cards when the lights at the end of pit lane turned green.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 celebrates his pole position. 26.08.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Netherlands, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Miltenburg / XPB Images

Q1: Albon pips Verstappen to top spot in tricky wet conditions

First out on track were the two Williams drivers, Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant. They and those that followed were all on intermediate tyres befitting the wet track, but there was a definite sense that teams were already itching to break out the slick compounds if no more rain showed up, the tarmac already steaming off the standing water that had built up.

Albon posted the first time of 1:31.315s, but he went off on his way. The conditions had already evolved by the time that Sargeant crossed the line moments later, over a second and a half quicker than his team mate. By the time that Valtteri Bottas completed his lap in the Alfa Romeo, he was able to drop the target time to 1:26.000s. But it wasn’t easy for anyone, with Verstappen among those to find himself bounding through the wet gravel.

That allowed McLaren to take charge, Lando Norris going top with a time of 1:23.260s which was almost half a second ahead of his team mate Oscar Piastri. Sergio Perez split the papaya pair, and then the two Ferraris went top until Verstappen completed a decent push lap to go quickest and was then immediately deposed by a new lap from Norris, and then Piastri going quicker still. Even Albon had been able to beat Verstappen’s initial benchmark.

With concerns that more showers could pop up at any time, no one was letting up. The cycle started again, with Perez splitting the two McLarens for a second time. Then it was George Russell going seven thousandths of a second ahead of Piastri before Norris took charge again with a time of 1:21.434s, six tenths quicker than the Mercedes. Piastri briefly went top again before Verstappen pipped him once more with a time of 1:21.230s. With four minutes on the clock, those at risk of elimination were Nico Hulkenberg, AlphaTauri stand-in Liam Lawson, Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen and Logan Sargeant.

Alex Albon (THA), Williams F1 Team 26.08.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Netherlands, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images

Drivers made quick visits to pit lane for new inters, and there were some near misses including Sainz pulling across the track as he came back out resulting in squeezing Piastri to the edge of the track. Elsewhere Lewis Hamilton complained he had been blocked by Alonso, although the stewards weren’t interested in further investigation. Time was running out – not just on the clocks but in the skies overhead as the fans in the grandstands dived for their umbrellas and waterproof jackets when the rain picked up again.

Sainz had been looking at risk of missing the cut but now jumped up to fifth place. Albon found a sweet spot to go quickest ahead of Verstappen, Piastri and Norris. And Norris was also looking safely through as were Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda and Fernando Alonso. With the water spray visibly heavier, Hulkenberg and Hamilton were also safe, but Perez had been pushed all the way down to P13 putting him just ahead of a last-gasp effort from Leclerc that left the Ferrari 14th ahead of Sargeant, who had made a late improvement to secure his passage to the second round.

Zhou Guanyu put everything into his final run and gone for a wild slide out of the final corner as a consequence, but the Alfa Romeo still missed the cut as did his team mate Bottas. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon perhaps regretted not putting in much of an appearance in FP3 and also missed out, as did Magnussen. It was rather more understandable that Lawson was slowest of anyone in his first day in the cockpit of the AT04 sitting in for the injured Daniel Ricciardo.

Q2: Verstappen quickest ahead of Piastri and Albon as Hamilton misses the cut

While light, the rain continued to persist as the teams regrouped for the second round of qualifying. Intermediates remained the unanimous choice of the drivers, but the skies were clearing up and the odd dry line could be seen as sun appeared over the final corner. Even so the teams were worried by a heavy cell of rain lingering close by the circuit, so Verstappen was quick to take charge on 1:20.690s. That was a full second ahead of Sargeant, Leclerc, Stroll and Russell but it was early days: Piastri soon staked a claim on second, and Albon went quicker to edge within a couple of tenths of Verstappen.

Norris was still looking quick and usurped Verstappen from the top with a time of 1:20.629s, but Verstappen instantly retaliated and went 0.347s quicker still. The Mercedes drivers had also shown their hands, Hamilton into third ahead of Albon with Russell just behind in fifth and Leclerc finding temporary sanctuary in fifth before an improved run from Piastri put the Aussie into fourth. It left Sargeant on the bubble in P10 and Perez, Tsunoda, Hulkenberg, Gasly and Sainz all having to scramble if they were going to make it through to the final round.

The track was continuing to dry up but not in time to allow anyone to try slicks for the final efforts. Verstappen pushed on in the improving conditions to post a new time of 1:19.652s which was almost a second quicker than the latest from Perez who had jumped to P2 ahead of Norris, Hamilton and Piastri. If that looked like the end of the story, then Albon’s next lap was enough to put Williams back on top by a quarter of a second from Verstappen while Tsunoda jumped into third between the the Red Bulls.

Russell was also able to edge ahead of Verstappen, although not a match for Albon, and then Piastri went quickest of anyone with a time of 1:19.392s which was seven thousandths quicker than Albon, before Verstappen’s inevitable riposte was half a second quicker than anyone else. Behind Alonso, Leclerc clocked in to fifth ahead of Russell while Norris left his final run late and was only fast enough for seventh ahead of improved times from Perez, Sainz and a brilliant showing from Sargeant to get the American through to the top ten pole shoot-out.

Stroll had just missed the cut as had Gasly, Tsunoda and Hulkenberg. But the big shock was Hamilton losing out and ending up 13th after struggling with traffic congestion throughout his all important final flying lap attempt.

Q3: Verstappen takes pole from Norris after Leclerc and Sargeant crash out

The weather was transformed during the intermission before the start of Q3, with the emerging sunshine making the Zandvoort dunes look positively almost beach-ready. A dry line was becoming more evident by the minute and race control enabled DRS for the remaining 12 minutes, a clear indication that slicks were now on the cards.

Sure enough, Russell, Albon and Sargeant were all quick to head out on the soft compound while Piastri put safety first with an exploratory lap on used inters as did Verstappen, Perez and Leclerc which confirmed that slicks were indeed the way to go, and they came back into pit lane for a change – except for Verstappen who stayed out as he and his race engineer once again bickered over tactics.

Albon had just posted a time of 1:15.743s as one of only four timed laps completed before the session was red-flagged for a big crash for his Williams team mate Sargeant. He had strayed wide onto the wet kerb at turn 2 and lost the rear of the car, throwing him into the TechPro barrier. It was an unfortunate way for the rookie to end what had been up to this point his best qualifying performance of the season, at a circuit that was clearly well-suited to the FW45. Fortunately he was able to give the crowd a thumbs-up as he walked over to the medical car to indicate no harm done in terms of injuries at least, just some bruising to the ego.

There was still a little over eight minutes remaining on the stopped clock, and the lengthy delay for barrier repairs meant the track had even more time to dry off before the remaining nine cars still in contention were able to head back out. Sainz was first out, followed by Albon and Alonso. The times were a quantum advance on the earlier levels with Norris jumping to the top with a time of 1:12.049s, two tenths ahead of his team mate Piastri with Verstappen only third ahead of Russell.

Leclerc had just gone fifth fastest but then went into the barrier at turn 9, the problem now being dust on the track rather than rain causing him to understeer off onto the wet, muddy grass and a one way trip into the tyre wall. Again the clock was stopped while the marshals swept up the mess, and the four minutes remaining meant everyone still on one piece would have once last chance to improve their times in a one-lap shootout.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing receives the Pirelli Pole Position Award from Marta Garcia (ESP) Racing Driver.
26.08.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Netherlands, Qualifying Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

Perez, Albon and Alonso led the charge giving themselves the advantage of two warm-up laps before putting their foot down. Verstappen had no need of such things to ensure he went top with a time of 1:10.567s, half a second clear of Norris’ best effort which kept the McLaren man ahead of Russell, Albon and Alonso, with Sainz sixth from Perez and Piastri.

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