ZANDVOORT, Netherlands (AP) — Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen made quick work of a safety car restart to win the Dutch Grand Prix on Sunday in front of 100,000 adoring fans, and make it four straight wins for the first time in his F1 career.
Verstappen’s 10th win matched his tally from last year and the Red Bull driver extended his championship lead to 109 points. With seven races left a second straight title is looking increasingly likely as his challengers — Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and teammate Sergio Perez in joint second — continue to fall further back.
“Very lovely result guys,” Verstappen said to his team, before telling his legions of supporters he was “proud to be Dutch.”
His second straight win here — and 30th career win — was even more special because of a gearbox problem in Friday’s first practice session.
“I had to work for it even more, an incredible weekend,” Verstappen said. “We had great pace again.”
George Russell finished second for Mercedes ahead of Leclerc, with Lewis Hamilton dropping from first to fourth.
“As a team we showed incredible pace today. The team result wasn’t quite what we hoped for but we can take a lot of confidence moving forward,” Russell said. “We are slowly getting closer to that top step.”
Verstappen looked to be coasting to victory when a safety car came out on Lap 56 of 72, after the engine cut out on Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo.
Verstappen changed tires and was behind leader Hamilton’s Mercedes with 12 laps left.
But Hamilton was on a slower medium tire and Verstappen on the quicker softs left the British driver pretty much a sitting duck, much like when he lost the title to Verstappen at last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.
Hamilton misjudged his restart and Verstappen overtook him straight away to bring a huge roar from the Orange Army. The Dutchman also took an extra point for the fastest lap.
“I had a good run in the restart, we had a bit more top speed and that helps to attack into Turn 1,” Verstappen said. “From there onwards we had really good balance in the car again.”
An angry Hamilton took it out on his team, using an expletive on radio to tell them he wasn’t happy about not swapping for new tires under safety car, when Russell had.
Hamilton appeared to brake late when Russell overtook him and they nearly collided. Hamilton could no longer contain his rage and unleashed another expletive-laced rant.
It got worse as Leclerc overtook Hamilton to move into third on an otherwise poor day for a Ferrari team unable to cut out the most basic errors.
“Sorry it didn’t work out,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Hamilton. “We did what we discussed this morning in the office.”
Hamilton calmed down and thanked his mechanics afterward.
Leclerc started from second ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr. in third. Sainz crossed the line in eighth and got a five-second penalty for an unsafe release in the pitlane. Sainz said he was trying to avoid a McLaren mechanic in front of him and had to “hit the brakes.”
Earlier in the race, Ferrari botched Sainz’s tire change on Lap 15 — taking 13 seconds — in a season of bizarre incidents.
This time the tires were not even ready.
“Oh my God,” a stunned Sainz said.
Ferrari even left the tire-changing gun on the floor and Perez narrowly missed rolling over it.
Verstappen produced a brilliant final lap Saturday to take pole from Leclerc by .02 seconds — the smallest margin this season — in a qualifying session marred by a flare thrown onto the track.
Fans packed the grandstands Sunday, many wearing colors of the Dutch flag. Thousands of fans cycled to the track, leaving their bikes by the seaside at the Zandvoort circuit.
Verstappen started well and shut the door on Leclerc while Sainz held off Hamilton on the outside.
Leclerc came in on Lap 18 and this time Ferrari had his tires ready, at least. Verstappen came in on the next lap as Red Bull matched Ferrari’s strategy, while Mercedes stayed out with Hamilton leading from Russell.
The Orange Army roared when Verstappen overtook Russell, and two laps later he led when Hamilton changed to hard tires.
The race became more open when a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) came out after Yuki Tsunoda retired his AlphaTauri on Lap 47.
Verstappen and others changed tires. Leclerc lost position under the VSC and was fourth at the restart.
Then the real safety car came out.
So Verstappen came in for another change, exiting just behind Russell and Hamilton. Russell asked to come in for new tires and it proved the right call.
Perez finished the race fifth ahead of Fernando Alonso, who drove brilliantly to move his Alpine up from 13th on the grid.
Lando Norris (McLaren) finished in seventh spot, followed by Sainz, Esteban Ocon (Alpine) and Lance Stroll (Aston Martin).
Verstappen aims for a fifth straight win next weekend at the Italian GP in Monza, where misfiring Ferrari hopes to give its tifosi fans something to cheer about.
“The gap is now really big,” Leclerc said. “Max was too quick today.”
As he has been most of the season.
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