Well, that was a doozy.
We warned you that the Circuit Zandvoort might make for a boring race. It’s too small, we said. Too narrow, we said. We noted that qualifying might be the only exciting day because nobody can overtake on this tiny little rollercoaster track.
Then, the skies opened — and shut us up.
The Dutch Grand Prix, for my money, was one of the more fascinating races of the year. The rain shuffled strategies and caused exciting racing, forced teams into consequential decisions and made successful drives and strategies vanish into thin air.
It was messy, fun and historic. Congratulations, fans. You won the weekend. (Max Verstappen did OK, too.) Now, let’s sort through the mess and pick out some other winners and losers from the wet weekend in Zandvoort.
Genre #1: Rain reverence
Winner: Early pitters
I loved the point of the race when F1’s broadcast showed the replay of the race start, and Jolyon Palmer basically went, “I have no idea why we’re doing this.” It didn’t matter anymore: The rain had sent half the grid back into the pits on Lap 2. Everything became jumbled.
The clear answer was to pit for inters right away. The difference was so stark. I highly encourage everyone to ride on Sergio Pérez’s onboard camera from the start of Lap 3. He overtook seven cars and gained the lead in about half a lap. It was like he was playing F1 23 with the A.I. turned down to zero. It was like a driver blatantly disregarding school zone laws. I swear this sequence on our live blog happened in the span of ten seconds (read it from bottom to top):
Some teams were able to make up for the decision to wait a lap late to pit, but it took much of the race to regain track position. Alex Albon stayed out for 44 laps on soft tires. Lance Stroll ultimately missed the points. Ocon had to scratch and claw to reach P10. Inters were the way to go, and the sooner you made that decision on Sunday, the sooner you could actually start racing.
Drivers jockey for position before the heavens open ☔️😵
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 27, 2023
Loser: Lackluster meteorologists
Nobody gambled harder and lost than Mercedes. You rarely hear a team blame weather forecasting for a bad day, but here we are.
Russell, who started from third but wound up P17, said the team had gotten the weather forecast “totally wrong.” Mercedes thought the rain would only last a couple of minutes. It, uh, lasted much longer. As a result, both Russell and Lewis Hamilton were stuck out on slick tires on a very wet track. Hamilton started on mediums, which worsened his situation, as the harder compound made handling the car so very difficult.
“I mean, as a team, we need to review because, I mean, we’re getting the information coming into us, and it was misjudged, the weather,” Russell said. “So, you know, it’s not anything to do with racing or engineering … it was just a weather misinterpretation and that that ruined our afternoon.”
To be fair to Russell, he and Mercedes almost made the most out of a bad situation. He switched back to softs when most of the grid did but ditched them during the lap 16 virtual safety car for hard tires. By lap 42, Russell’s were humming along when everyone else was swapping for fresh tires. The driver made it up to P8 before a tangle with Lando Norris left him with a puncture and a P17 finish.
It’s worth noting Mercedes wasn’t the only team overly beholden to weather forecasts. As Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc barreled around the final corner on Lap 1, he told the team he was boxing for inters.
“Box from slicks to inters,” Leclerc said.
“We’re expecting the duration–” his engineer, Xavier Marcos Padros, began to say before noticing Leclerc was already starting to box. “–OK, box.”
“Box!” Leclerc exclaimed. Ferrari was clearly not prepared for him, leading to a much-memed moment.
— giFF1🏁 (@giFFormula1) August 27, 2023
It appears Ferrari, like Mercedes, was prepared to stick to its pre-race weather reports, even as the track around it deteriorated into a puddle. It was a good reminder that plans are only as good as the reality they’re deployed in. In Formula One, inflexible strategies can end a race early.
Category #2: Greatness
Winner: Verstappen (obviously)
I thought Luke evaluated Verstappen’s race eloquently, and I don’t need to belabor the point here. So, I’ll share, in full, Fernando Alonso’s thoughtful assessment of Verstappen’s form:
“It is underestimated sometimes what Max is achieving,” Alonso said after the race on Sunday. “I think to win in such a dominant matter in any of the professional sports, it is so complicated. So to be at the same level of him, obviously, we have a lot of self-confidence, drivers in general … I think you need to enter in a mood, in a state that you are, as I said before, connected with a car.
“I think days like today, I felt that I was at my best and have been giving 100% of what I felt and my abilities on a racing car. But maybe in Spa, I was not at that level or in Austria or something like that. So you always feel that there is room to improve, and you are not 100% happy with yourself, as I am today. And I think Max is achieving that 100% more often than us at the moment, than any of the drivers, so that’s why he’s dominating.”
I’m a big Occam’s razor guy. I believe the simple explanation is usually better than the conspiratorial explanation. (Before you get angry, philosophy nerds, I know that’s a common misinterpretation of Occam’s razor. Bear with me.)
The “Red Bull is giving Checo a worse hand” theory probably gained some steam this weekend for two reasons. Once the first pit stops played out, and Verstappen got to chase Pérez on the same tires, that 14-second gap evaporated so quickly. We’re talking four seconds a lap. And then Red Bull pitted Verstappen before Pérez, ensuring he’d retake the lead a lap later. “Did Max just undercut us?” Pérez asked his engineer, bewildered. Yes, he did.
How Pérez fell so far behind Verstappen: Knocked confidence and a matter of style
But, as we explained yesterday, Sunday’s disparity was less team interference than Checo getting in his own way as his legendary teammate incessantly marched toward history. He made mistakes – he hit the pit wall, sped in the pit lane, and caused a slow stop by calling the pits late. And as for the 14-second gap lost? I’m more inclined to give credit to the better driver. The difference becomes more apparent as Verstappen’s greatness bears down on Pérez lap-by-lap and week after week. Checo also told The Athletic that as Red Bull car develops this year, the car is “going away” from what he’s more comfortable with – a similar thing happened last season.
So, there are a lot of factors at play. Pérez is still second in the championship, mind you. I’m not sure why Red Bull wouldn’t want him as a second driver. Is living beneath Verstappen’s shadow in Checo’s best interests at this point? That’s a question.
Category #3: Expectations
Winner(s): Williams, Liam Lawson
After a surprise seventh-place finish in Montreal, Alex Albon spoke of the team’s urgency in bringing upgrades to the car as the second half of the season approached. Williams knows its car’s strengths and apparent weaknesses. After Canada and Silverstone, it didn’t have much hope for the last ten tracks on the schedule.
But Williams’ car caught everyone by surprise this weekend in Zandvoort, a track that lacks much of the straight-line speed at which the car excels. Albon and Logan Sargeant ran in the top 10 during much of practice, and both qualified in the top 10 for the first time all season.
Of course, Williams couldn’t stick the landing. An ill-timed hydraulics issue sent Sargeant into the barriers on Lap 16, and the decision to stick with slicks a lap too long near the end of the race cost Albon a top-five finish.
But nobody, including Williams, expected the team to leave the Netherlands with points. Now, the team is looking at Monza not as a last hurrah but as a potential high point in a solid final few weeks of the season.
“That’s the best the car has felt all year; that’s the best the car has ever felt in my time driving at Williams,” Albon said.
As for Lawson, I’m trying and failing to imagine a more hectic debut weekend for an F1 driver. Daniel Ricciardo crashed and broke his hand in FP2, leaving Lawson only one practice session to get a handle on a car he said he was unfamiliar with. Then rain washed out most of that session, and Lawson went out early in qualifying. And then *gestures broadly* that race happened. Life didn’t even dangle Lawson over the pot of boiling water. Straight in with you, rookie. Plop.
To his immense credit, he hopped right out. A 10-second penalty for impeding aside, he finished the race and overtook Charles Leclerc on the way to a P13 finish (Leclerc ultimately DNF’ed). Not bad. Nobody in their right mind would’ve expected much from Lawson on Sunday, but he exceeded whatever hopes even he must’ve had.
“You always look back, and I’ll reflect on this, and there are definitely things I would have liked to do better,” Lawson said. “But yeah, reasonably satisfied with that.”
I expected I’d learn what a stroopwafel is by the end of the weekend.
(Lead photo of George Russell: Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)