Max Verstappen has pipped championship rival Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the Dutch Grand Prix in a thrilling finish to qualifying.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
Just 0.038 seconds separated the pair at the end of the session despite Verstappen holding a substantial advantage throughout the qualifying hour and despite Hamilton having lost almost 60 minutes of practice time at the new track to an engine problem.
The two title protagonists were so closely matched that Hamilton’s second lap exactly matched Verstappen’s first, only for the Dutchman to pull away by the ultimate 0.038-second margin.
“It’s an amazing feeling of course to ger pole position here,” Verstappen said. “The crowd is incredible, and today was also very enjoyable.
“The car was really nice to drive. This track as well in qualifying, once the fuel comes out, is really cool.”
But more than the excitement of pole is the increased likelihood of victory. Zandvoort presents few opportunities for overtaking, and a good start and decent defensive drive should be enough to get Verstappen home.
“It’s of course the best starting position,” he said. “We know passing is difficult. I don’t expect it to be an easy race … but today was good, so I hope we can finish it off tomorrow.”
Hamilton was similarly pessimistic about his chances of wresting the lead and maintaining his three-points championship lead, but he was happy to have rebounded strongly from his Friday engine setback nonetheless.
“I was trying to catch him,” he said. “Obviously with yesterday’s session missed it made it a bit of a difficult day, but [Verstappen} did a fantastic lap and he deserves the pole.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s a difficult circuit to overtake, but what a place for us to be racing … I hope the track helps us provide a good race.”
He will at least be able to count on the support of teammate Valtteri Bottas, who qualified third and 0.3 seconds off the pace and will be able to play a decisive role in the unfolding of the race.
“We still have two cars in the top three, so it’s all to play for,” he said. “It’s quite a hard track to overtake, but the race start is always an opportunity, and of course the strategy.”
Pierre Gasly qualified fourth for AlphaTauri in another strong performance for the Red Bull-backed Frenchman, with Ferrari teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz following in fifth and sixth.
Antonio Giovinazzi was an excellent seventh for Alfa Romeo, batting away rumours of his replacement at the team for 2022.
Alpine duo Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso qualified eighth and ninth, and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo will start 10th.
George Russell was knocked out 11th after a crash deep into Q2 caused a 10-minute suspension, though the damage wasn’t severe enough to prevent him from limping back to the pits despite the stoppage.
Lance Stroll qualified 11th ahead of Lando Norris and Nicholas Latifi, who crashed shortly after the session resumed from William teammate’s George Russell crash.
The Canadian was fractionally too wide on approach into Turn 8, clipping the grass and sending him spinning into the barrier in a high-speed smash that necessitated another red flag, this time ending the session with less than 90 seconds remaining, which kept Yuki Tsunoda in 15th.
Sergio Perez and Sebastian Vettel qualified out of position in 16th and 17th. The Mexican missed his opportunity to set his final flying lap when the track was at its quickest in a perfect storm, with the team sending him out late, him getting caught behind slow cars in the narrow pit lane and then traffic on track delaying his progress, seeing him over the line after the session ended.
Vettel, on the other hand, was most of the way through his last flyer when he encountered an errant Nikita Mazepin on a slow lap in the final sector, forcing him to hit the brakes to avoid a crash and leaving him 17th.
Polish driver Robert Kubica qualified 18th for Alfa Romeo after receiving the call-up to the team on Saturday morning to cover for regular driver Kimi Raikkonen, who has been forced to isolate after a positive COVID-19 test.
Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin qualified 19th and 20th, and the latter will face a post-session stewards investigation into blocking Vettel.