Max Verstappen claimed a pulsating late pole position for Red Bull with a dramatic final lap at his home Dutch Grand Prix on Saturday, outpacing Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by just two-hundredths of a second.
To the delight of a raucous mass of home supporters in a packed crowd at the Zandvoort seaside circuit, the 24-year-old Dutchman pulled out a fastest lap of 1:10.342 to top the times and secure his second successive pole on home soil.
It was a fourth pole this season and 17th of his career for Red Bull’s world champion and runaway series leader. He was also quickest in qualifying in Belgium last weekend, but he was unable to take pole due to a grid penalty.
Leclerc was second in 1:10.363 ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Sergio Perez, who crashed on his final lap in the second Red Bull.
George Russell was sixth in the second Mercedes ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren, Haas’s Mick Schumacher, Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Lance Stroll of Aston Martin, who was unable to run in Q3 due to mechanical problems.
The session began in beautiful conditions with an air temperature of 24 degrees and the track at 39 and with a crackling atmosphere generated by the ‘orange army’ which formed the majority of the capacity 105,000 crowd.
The Haas drivers were the first out and the rest followed with everyone on slicks as the times tumbled with ‘track progression’ on the compact circuit in the North Sea sand dunes.
Verstappen demonstrated his pace by topping Q1 ahead of a rejuvenated Hamilton and Tsunoda third, as the boisterous spectators were warned again not to bring flares in or throw them on to the track.
Out from contention after a busy opening session went Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen of Haas, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi.
The flare warnings were mostly heeded, but Q2 was delayed by a red flag when a flare was thrown on the circuit, spoiling the lap of Williams’ Alex Albon, the only man on track.
The International Motoring Federation (FIA) announced that the person responsible for the flare had been identified and removed from the circuit.
After a six-minute pause, the action resumed and the spectators, almost all bedecked in orange, rose to roar approval as Verstappen clocked 1:10.927 with Perez taking second by three-tenths.
Encouraged by his car’s handling and potential, Hamilton went second in 1:11.075, just 0.148 off the Dutchman’s pace, while Russell slotted in fourth before being usurped by Stroll.
It was clear the evolution of the circuit favoured the later runners and in the final minutes Leclerc went second, just 0.061 off Verstappen’s pace, before his Ferrari team-mate Sainz went top in 1:10.814.
Russell also improved late to grab second behind Sainz as Norris, Perez, Stroll, Schumacher and Tsunoda swept through to the top ten shootout at the expense of Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, the two Alpines, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Albon.
It was a timely boost for Schumacher to take his place in Q3 for the fourth time this season as discussions about his future have intensified this weekend.
As expected, the Red Bulls were first out for Q3 and Verstappen, pushing hard, laid down his marker in 1:10.515. Perez went second, half a second adrift, before Hamilton replaced him, a tenth off the pace.
Leclerc then took control in 1:10.456, a sweeping fast lap to earn him provisional pole, but it was close with the top three, from three different teams separated by just 0.2 seconds.
The Monegasque was first out – as a flare appeared to land on track at Turn One – and managed to improve his time by a tenth, but Verstappen improved too and clocked 1:10.342 to take pole by 0.021.
It was the smallest margin of the season to win pole.
Sainz improved to take third from Hamilton, but Verstappen’s supreme middle sector had triumphed as his team-mate Perez crashed in pursuit.