Max Verstappen has beaten Lewis Hamilton to victory at the first Dutch Grand Prix in 26 years to regain the title lead.

The Dutchman had a blistering start from pole position while the two Mercedes drivers briefly sparred into the first turn. By the end of the first lap his lead was up to 1.7 seconds over Hamilton, and he added an extra two seconds to that by lap 20.

Mercedes, sensing its window of opportunity closing, brought Hamilton into the pits for the undercut, but Verstappen stopped the following lap to maintain his advantage, albeit reduced by two seconds.

But Mercedes’s potential ace was Valtteri Bottas, who had been left on track to inherit the lead. The team hoped he could sandwich Verstappen between himself and the tailing Hamilton to generate an opportunity for the Briton to pass on a circuit that otherwise made overtaking difficult.

Verstappen closed on the Finn on lap 29, but the battle didn’t last long. Bottas’s worn tyres forced him into a mistake on lap 30, allowing the Dutchman and Hamilton to sail through out of the last corner of that lap.

Hamilton had one final card to play, making his second stop aggressively early and onto the medium-compound tyre when Verstappen had only the slower hards remaining, but the stop was badly timed. Hamilton rejoined the circuit among lapped traffic, squandering any first-mover advantage, and Verstappen’s car turned out to have strong pace on the hard tyre anyway,

Strategic options exhausted, Mercedes waited until Hamilton’s tyres expired late in the race before bringing him back to the pits for the qualifying tyre to allow him to score a consolation point for fastest lap.

Verstappen had seen off Mercedes’s full armoury without breaking a sweat, and he took the flag to thunderous applause from the 70,000-strong Dutch crowd.

“As you can hear already, it’s just incredible,” he said. “Of course the expectations were very high going into the weekend, and it’s never easy to fulfil that, but I’m of course so happy to win here and take the lead as well in the championship.

“It’s just an amazing day. The whole crowd — incredible.”

Hamilton tried to cling to Verstappen, keeping the Red Bull Racing car just in his sights for much of the race, but he never had the pace to close, and the Briton admitted Mercedes simply lacked performance to take the fight to the leader.

“Max did a great job,” he said. “I gave it absolutely everything today — flat out.

“I pushed as hard as I could, but they were just too quick for us.”

Bottas was an anonymous third, fading from the lead fight after being passed by Verstappen and Hamilton early, and his day was compounded by a late safety stop and instruction not to try to set the fastest lap to ensure his teammate could add the point to his championship campaign.

“Unfortunately for me it was pretty uneventful,” he said. “We tried, but we didn’t quite have the pace today.” … Continue reading

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