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As the Formula 1 season enters September, just eight races remain of the campaign with Max Verstappen cantering toward defending his World Drivers’ Championship.
After a third win on the bounce for the second time this season and his eighth victory of the term at Spa, this weekend the Dutchman hops back across the border to the Netherlands, seeking double delight in Zandvoort for the Dutch Grand Prix.
With a mountainous 93-point advantage, only serious and sudden problems in pace and performance will deny Verstappen retaining his title.
As an adoring home support descend on the coastal municipality this weekend, can anyone or anything stop an Oranje beach party?
Dutch double for Verstappen?
It has not come without more than a slice of good fortune, but the destination of this year’s F1 title has swung vehemently in the direction of Verstappen since Le Castellet back at the end of July.
Looking to seal a unique ‘home’ double in Zandvoort this weekend, Verstappen took victory here 12 months ago in the first Dutch GP since 1985 as the Hasselt native took another big step in prizing Lewis Hamilton‘s steely grip off the championship.
Eyeing not only back-to-back wins in his adopted nation, Verstappen can also seal a cross-border triumph that will take the advantage over his rivals out past 100 points.
Should that transpire, the remains of the season at the top of the standings at least, will surely be academic. Cue Friday’s gearbox issues in practice. Perhaps the season is not the cut-and-dry outcome we all are anticipating?
Time will tell.
Charles Leclerc‘s frustrations show no sign of easing.
On the back of successive P6 finishes, the Monegasque driver is for the first time showing the strains as teammate Carlos Sainz currently enjoys the better car performance in his Ferrari – going P5-P4 and adding a P3 podium finish in Belgium.
Though having been forced out of the race on one less occasion than Sainz, Leclerc is now third in the points pecking order behind Sergio Perez and has left a chasm in points to Verstappen of 102, with his Spanish cohort now just 15 points off his tail.
After an auspicious start to the season, 2022 has rather nose-dived for Leclerc and the Scuderia driver will be desperate for an about-turn and no less an improvement, after finishing fifth in Holland last year.
His title aspirations may appear to be at an end for this season at least, but the space and indeed time for a reversal in fortunes is within sight.
Those hopes, however, need to move into view and in some haste but after leading the way in FP2, optimism remains.
Hamilton seeks rebuild; Alonso regret
After five podiums on the spin, Lewis Hamilton saw his season’s upward curve meet a fork in the road last time out, as the Briton – despite a difficult campaign – was forced to retire for the first time this season.
Following a collision with Fernando Alonso that sent Hamilton’s car air-bound, sustaining terminal damage, on a Spa-Francorchamps track he has taken the chequered flag at four times before, the 37-year-old was sent out of the race early.
Last week, as Hamilton trudged back disconsolately to the garage, Alonso meanwhile, was left spitting feathers as he accused Hamilton of being “an idiot” for closing the door at Les Combes on Alpine Team radio. Since then however, cooler waters have pervaded.
With a rather spiky history between the two former world champions, few would be forgiven for thinking that little love had been lost. Alonso, however, was on Thursday quick to douse the flames of fury.
Indeed, the Spaniard met up with Hamilton in the Mercedes garage to smooth things over. Telling F1.com also, his comments from Belgium were those made ‘in the heat of the moment’ and that he had nothing but the utmost respect for Hamilton and all he has achieved in the sport:
“First of all, it’s Lewis – he’s a champion, he’s a legend of our time. And then when you say something – and I’m sorry to repeat this – against a British driver, there is a huge media involvement after that.
“But anyway, yes I apologise. I’m not thinking what I said – I don’t think that it was much to blame in that moment looking at the replays to be honest, because it was a first-lap incident and we are close together. The heat of the moment, the adrenaline of the moment, fighting finally for the top two, top three, made me say those comments that I should not say.”
In the shorter term, after Mercedes went 1-2 in FP1 on Friday, there are more than a few pointers – like with Ferrari – that the Silver Arrows could be on top this weekend.
After Russell recorded a P4 at Spa, could another British podium double be on the cards in Zandvoort?
The Heineken Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix 2022 takes place at Circuit Zandvoort, Netherlands, this weekend.
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