[10 things we learned from the 2023 F1 Dutch Grand Prix
Max Verstappen looks essentially unstoppable in Formula 1 right now, but his 2023 Dutch Grand Prix victory was a masterclass in changing circumstances.
He delighted his home fans for a third year in a row, with pictures of the crowd dancing throughout the late-race red flag stoppage entertaining many watching from afar, but Verstappen really had to work for this one.
This is because others, including Sergio Perez, made better lap-one calls to stop for intermediates and Verstappen had to battle back. Behind him, there was a resurgence for Aston Martin, bad strategy calls from McLaren and Mercedes, and yet more misery for Ferrari. Williams grabbed the headlines across the weekend and the Zandvoort track itself created a unique rules situation.
All that and more is presented in the pick of what we learned from F1’s latest visit to the Netherlands.
1. Verstappen now has another F1 record within his reach
Following his ninth win in succession, matching Vettel’s 2013 run, Verstappen can take the record all for himself at Monza
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
Verstappen’s victory run now extends back to the Baku race in late April, with his run of nine wins putting him level with Red Bull’s other world champion in the F1 record books. Verstappen is now level with Sebastian Vettel’s undefeated tally to close out 2013, as well as Alberto Ascari’s run (either side of the 1953 Indianapolis 500) during F1’s stint running to Formula 2 car design rules in the world championship’s infancy.
Verstappen now heads to Monza seeking to claim the record all for himself. The battle for the Italian GP spoils is set to take place on a track type that favours Red Bull’s slippery low-downforce package and the potent Honda engine. Not that Verstappen is getting ahead of himself on the stats front, as ever.
“I’ll think about it next week,” he said post-race at Zandvoort. “I’m first going to enjoy this weekend. It was probably one of the more difficult races to win again. But yeah, nine in a row was something I never even thought about. So yeah, very happy with that. But I think I’m in general very happy to win here in front of my own crowd.”
2. A Baku breakthrough is behind Verstappen’s victory run
Verstappen revealed that experiments with set-up at Baku had contributed to his present advantage
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Thinking back to Baku is actually even more important right now, as Verstappen revealed after his win last Sunday that decisions he made during his ultimately fruitless chase of team-mate Perez in that event have boosted his 2023 performances significantly ever since.
“I learned a lot from the race in Baku,” Verstappen explained after claiming his 11th win overall in 2023.
“[That’s] how to do some things with the car, how to set it up. Of course, I didn’t win that race in Baku but actually, I really tried a lot of stuff and different tools in the car. That’s why throughout the race it was a little bit inconsistent, but at one point, I got into a good rhythm with what I found.
“I damaged my tyres a bit too much, but it was like ‘OK, that’s quite interesting for the next races’. And I basically implemented that and it has helped me on every track [since].”
3. Perez retains Red Bull’s backing for 2024, despite his Zandvoort errors
Perez still has Horner’s endorsement for a 2024 seat after two late errors cost him a podium finish
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
At the start of lap four, it looked as if Perez would be very hard to beat last Sunday thanks to his brilliant call to pit at the end of lap one and take intermediates while Verstappen and co ahead stayed out. But then, even as Perez followed instructions to look after the inters as the track dried, his pace against his team-mate collapsed.
With Alonso looming in fourth but showing great pace after powering past Perez’s fellow lap one inters gainer Zhou Guanyu with another low Hugenholtz pass after their stop to return to the slicks, Red Bull opted to pit Verstappen first. That then undercut him ahead of Perez when the leader stopped one lap later.
After this, Perez dropped back from his team-mate and then made two errors in the late rain – spinning off at Tarzan and letting Alonso by, then whacking the pitwall and breaking the pitlane speed limit as he pitted for full wets, which led to a time penalty.
Post-race, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said Perez’s “situation for next year is clear” regarding his seat security. Horner added: “He’s a Red Bull Racing driver. We have an agreement with him.”
This appears to override comments Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko had been making in recent weeks suggesting Perez might be replaced for 2024. But then, Red Bull also had an agreement with Nyck de Vries and look how that ended…
4. Aston Martin update boosts Alonso to podium return…
Alonso was back on the podium for the first time since the Canadian Grand Prix after a strong drive
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
Coming into the weekend, Aston Martin and Mercedes had revealed significant upgrades to their respective floor changes (Mercedes also had a sidepod mirror stay alteration and a new beam wing).
At the green team, Alonso reckoned the changes meant “the car is better than the previous events that’s for sure” after he secured his third second place of the season. But he insisted that “I think it’s too early to say [for sure]” if Aston has addressed its previous development missteps and amid the FIA’s clampdown on flexing front wings.
“I felt the car was easier to drive,” he added. “We were more competitive. We’ve been in the top five in every session this weekend. It was not only in the race where we were fast. I think we felt competitive since Friday. But Monza next week is a completely different layout, minimum downforce there and drag. And let’s see if we can still be competitive.”
In any case, Alonso’s return to the podium for the first time since Montreal in mid-June was impressive. This assessment particularly concerns his lap-one passes on Albon and Russell – the latter like his dive against Zhou on the low Hugenholtz line. Plus, Alonso was rapid through the dry main stint, made up enough time against Sainz that he could recover from Aston’s botched third stop and briefly threatened Verstappen for the win in the late-race damp coda.
5. … but the form picture behind Red Bull as clouded as ever
The order was truly mixed at Zandvoort, as six different manufacturers qualified in the top six
Photo by: Dom Romney / Motorsport Images
It might’ve been Aston yet again chasing down Red Bull, but for all of Alonso’s brilliance things could still have worked out very differently here had other teams made different calls early in the race.
At McLaren and Mercedes, decisions to leave their cars out during the initial rain shower were compounded by calls to bring in Lando Norris, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton to eventually take inters – heaping on race time that would only be recovered through the various interruptions, but with positional losses that couldn’t be overcome.
Norris had again shone in qualifying to line up alongside Verstappen on the front row for McLaren, while Hamilton reckoned Mercedes had the pace in the dry to challenge the winner. This will go down as especially frustrating given at one point Russell led proceedings having passed Norris at Tarzan, albeit with the caveat that by this slippery stage, he was already on the wrong rain strategy.
“We stayed out catastrophically too long,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said after a race where the form book behind Red Bull remained as clouded as it has for much of 2023, with Williams also entering into the picture in a dramatic qualifying session. “We got it completely wrong.”
While Red Bull is again the favourite for Monza magic, the team chasing them down will come from as wide a typically wide upper midfield.
6. Ferrari is under massive pressure heading to its home race
Ferrari will be back on home turf at Monza this weekend, but does so after a tough outing in Holland
Photo by: Ferrari
“I would say after looking at the Alpine [we were] more [like] the sixth-fastest car this weekend,” Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz said after finishing fifth at Zandvoort. “I know at some point it looked that we even could fight for a podium, but the reality is that when the race was settled, when you look at our pace, we were just nowhere.”
That is a damning assessment on a weekend where Charles Leclerc crashed the other SF-23 several times, with his opening lap contact with McLaren’s Oscar Piastri resulting in floor damage that ultimately ruined his race and led to his retirement. This was thanks to the sheer loss of downforce from Leclerc’s damaged floor.
His lap one call to pit for inters was correct, but it exposed that Ferrari wasn’t ready with the green-walled tyres and its driver was left sitting still for around 10s. Perez, just ahead, made an identical decision that was backed up by Red Bull and he gained massively. The pitlane shambles were therefore held up as another example of the Scuderia’s strategy dithering.
But it is Sainz’s comments and Leclerc’s feeling “I’m getting into the corner and I have zero ideas whether I’m going to have huge understeer, huge oversteer” in explaining his Q3 crash that are the much bigger issue. Ferrari is now heading to Monza facing massive pressure just to have a clean race with a car it cannot get working consistently, let alone give its home fans some real success to cheer.
7. Zandvoort’s narrow pitlane earns race a unique rule change
After the red flag, the race resumed with all cars on inters to avoid a rapid dash to the tight pitlane to ditch full wets
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
Following the delay between the late-race red flags first being shown and Verstappen powering back up to racing speed for the second restart, the pack were doing something unique, which is thanks to Zandvoort’s narrow pit complex.
This is that they were all running on the inters during a post-stoppage safety car period, when per F1’s rules this would normally be taken on the full wet rubber. Usually, this requirement would trigger another dash to the pits to take the inters soon after green flag conditions returned, as it is now generally accepted that the only time the extreme wets are ever needed are in conditions where it’s actually too wet to race. Esteban Ocon angrily pointed this out to Alpine when handed them at his fourth stop…
But the FIA wanted to avoid this predictable switch to avoid the dangerous pitlane incidents seen here in 2022 occurring again, as well as Liam Lawson blocking Kevin Magnussen at their lap one stops when AlphaTauri double-stacked. Lawson subsequently had to cop a penalty he could do little about.
Race director Niels Wittich therefore decided “for the safe and orderly conduct of the event, and due to the exceptional layout of the pit lane at this event” if the track conditions “change such that the wet weather tyres are unsuitable (i.e. the track conditions become too dry and/or there is no standing water), then the race director may require all competitors to use the intermediate wet tyre specification instead of the wet weather tyres”.
8. Ricciardo’s return just got a lot more complicated
Ricciardo was hurt clouting the wall in FP2 when Piastri crashed ahead of him, putting his F1 return momentum on hold
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
Just when he was back where he wanted, enjoying life in F1, and certain columnists had been boldly predicting Zandvoort should offer a track type that would favour him and AlphaTauri as did the Hungaroring, Daniel Ricciardo’s Dutch GP was over before it ever got going.
The Australian broke a left-hand metacarpal in his odd Hugenholtz shunt trying to avoid the already-crashed Piastri, who had wrecked the McLaren Ricciardo is driving in an alternative universe at the famous banked turn. Ricciardo had surgery – conducted in Barcelona on Sunday by Dr Xavier Mir, who also worked on Lance Stroll following his pre-season cycling crash – and is thought to be targeting a Singapore GP return in mid-September.
That would be a remarkable achievement, which, if it goes well, would be followed by another. Because just as Stroll won deserved praise for his Bahrain GP efforts with two broken wrists and a broken toe, Ricciardo might be the next to show strong stuff in the face of injury. It’s the type of thing Marko loves just when questions over Perez’s Red Bull future remain, no matter what Horner says.
The whole situation also handed Lawson the F1 promotion he deserves after shining in Super Formula this year. It is surely likely that he’ll get a further chance to stake his claim for a full-time AlphaTauri ride at this weekend’s Monza event.
Although his injury has made his F1 return much harder, Ricciardo is surely not set to be dropped for 2024. And if Perez is indeed retained and Lawson does enough for next year to convince Marko, that in turn increases pressure on Yuki Tsunoda. He had a race of much promise in the Netherlands undone by two defensive driving errors against Ocon and Russell around his team’s poor dry strategy choice.
The Red Bull/AlphaTauri driver choice storyline has an unexpected chapter, but the tale isn’t close to complete just yet.
9. Group of Williams managers to set 2024 car direction
The 2024 Williams FW46 will be produced by a committee of senior managers in the absence of a technical director
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Williams had yet another strong 2023 weekend in the Dutch GP, with Alex Albon’s eighth place pulling the Grove-based team clear of Haas in seventh in the constructors’ championship.
Albon had started fourth and Logan Sargeant made Q3 before his crash in that qualifying segment, with a wind turnaround boosting the FW44 when it mattered in the slow corners. This in turn made the Williams even stronger in the higher-speed turns in which it excels.
New team boss James Vowles, who continues to impress in that role, has already stated that Williams’s 2023 development is fully geared towards its machine for next year. And he revealed at Zandvoort how that car is being conceived as new chief technical officer Pat Fry is still yet to join from Alpine.
“Pat [Fry] won’t be here with us in time to really have an influence on certainly the early elements of next year’s car,” said Vowles. “[So], I’ve formed a group of individuals, which includes some strong people from aerodynamics, Dave Warner, who are acting as our interim technical director, myself as well, Dave Robson who’s here at the track.
“Effectively it’s not the optimum way of doing it but there are a group of individuals that are basically agreeing the direction of travel that we should be going in. All of us sensible decision-makers but it means we’re united in our view of where we’re going.”
10. Hamilton tight-lipped on Massa’s 2008 legal wrangling
Massa has moved to take legal action over the 2008 world championship he lost to Hamilton
Photo by: Alexander Trienitz / Motorsport Images
Further details of Felipe Massa’s attempt to submit a legal challenge to F1 and the FIA over the outcome of the 2008 world championship following the Singapore GP ‘Crashgate’ scandal that year emerged over the weekend.
The former F1 driver has submitted a Letter Before Claim to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem that established the details of his legal effort. He then told Motorsport.com’s Brazilian language edition: “I’m not doing that for money, I’m doing that for the justice of the sport”, with the case next expected to be presented to a UK court.
Hamilton, who beat Massa to the 2008 title, was also asked for his position on the case at Zandvoort. But the Mercedes driver gave little away in response.
“I don’t really know,” Hamilton replied during the pre-event media day last week. “I’m really just focused on here and now and helping the team get back to the championship in the race and not really focused on what happened 15 years ago.”
Hamilton was giving little away when asked about Massa’s legal challenge into the 2008 Singapore GP
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images