BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 09: George Russell of Great Britain and Williams looks on from the grid prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 09, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Formula 1 | F1 2021 | Dutch Grand Prix preview | F1 returns to Zandvoort
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Dutch departure for Zandvoort
After just two laps were possible during one of the wettest ‘races’ in history at last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, Round 12 of the season rolls into Zandvoort for the Dutch Grand Prix on Sunday.
Returning to the Netherlands for the first time since 1985, the race’s position at the beginning of the 2020 season was shelved at the on-set of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, finally this weekend, Dutch race fans can bask in F1’s limelight.
Last won by Niki Lauda in the McLaren-TAG after Nelson Piquet took pole here some 36 years ago, Circuit Zandvoort’s original design has been drastically altered and lengthened to a lap of 4.259 km, with five more Turns added into its central layout for more competitive racing.
At a venue on the North Sea coast a mere 30 minutes from the capital Amsterdam, the British duo of Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart dominated the Dutch GP in the sixties (the latter holding a record four victories at Zandvoort).
So who could be the next name to etch their name into Zandvoort folklore this weekend?
Hamilton clings to advantage
As Spa-Francorchamps became little more than a skidpan last weekend, repeated attempts and failures to merely stage a race last time out were thwarted with racing was deemed too dangerous. That essentially rendered Saturday’s qualifying classification the final race standings.
Leaving something of a debacle to take place in Belgium, the minimum two laps required for a race result to be official were completed, as half points were added to respective driver tallies within the top 10.
The upshot of that has seen Max Verstappen close the gap to just three points on World Drivers’ Championship leader Lewis Hamilton after his sixth win of the campaign, now with the chance to again top the standings, for the first time since Hungary.
And what better place to do so than Zandvoort, as F1’s resident adopted Dutchman competes in his home GP for the first time?
For Hamilton meanwhile, for weather to intervene in the result of last weekend’s proceedings will have been an annoyance for the Briton, but the seven-time champion can still console himself with the fact he remains tops of the pile. For now at least.
As we mentioned, the Dutch GP has had a rich history of British winners down the years, with no less than ten race winners hailing from GB shores. Could Hamilton look to the past, as he continues his own path toward history this term?
Raikkonen retirement paves way for Russell
Before a single car has even rolled out on the Zandvoort tarmac this weekend however, F1 is preparing to wave goodbye to one of its regular fixtures since the turn of the new millennium, with the news Kimi Raikkonen will call time on his career at the end of he current season.
The Finn, 41, will drive his final race at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi come December, leaving the paddock after 19 terms in F1.
Having debuted with Sauber at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, Raikkonen has 21 race wins under his belt, and claimed the 2007 World Championship for Ferrari.
Whilst his final race is still some three months off though, his decision could now push George Russell even closer to Mercedes.
After a sensational runners-up finish for Williams due to last Sunday’s inclement conditions, the King’s Lynn driver has become even hotter property since Belgium.
Following on from Raikkonen’s announcement, the paddock is awash with further rumour that Russell could unite to form an all-British duo with Hamilton for Mercedes next year, with Valtteri Bottas making the switch to Alfa Romeo.
Indeed for some, they are more than just rumours, with Russell himself stating he knows who he will be driving for in 2022.
For the time being though those whispers are mere conjucture, but in the opinion of Hamilton, when quizzed on the potential destination of Russell next term, the Briton told F1.com he would be excited at the prospect of any potential partnership with Russell.
“I honestly think it will be good. I think George is an incredibly talented driver, clearly. I would say probably the only highlight from last week [at Spa] was his qualifying lap, it was amazing. I think he’s humble, I think he’s got a great approach, naturally being British I would imagine probably helps, in terms of communication.
“He’s the future. He’s one of the members of the future of the sport. I think he’s already shown incredible driving so far, and I’m sure he’s going to continue to grow, so where better to do it than in a great team like this, or whatever team he goes to?”
Moreover, and looking at the bigger picture in F1, if Bottas does make the jump to Alfa Romeo, will that affect the position of Antonio Giovinazzi, given the Italian has only finished in the points once this season?
There is no doubt Raikkonen has had a seismic impact on the the motorsport landscape for close to two decades now, but his departure could yet shape it for many more years to come.
The 2021 Dutch Grand Prix takes place at Circuit Zandvoort, North Holland, The Netherlands, this weekend.
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