Formula One returns from its summer break at Circuit Zandvoort on Sunday, where Max Verstappen's Orange Army will be out in full force looking forward to the Dutch driver carrying on in his Red Bull racer as he has the first half of 2023. It could not have gone much better for Verstappen and Red Bull in the first half, and the only question from here on out is whether any team can break the spell they have cast since winning at Miami back in early May.
It's eight on the trot for Verstappen right now, who has 10 total wins so far this season, as he and Red Bull stalk several F1 records and a third consecutive driver's title and Constructors' Championship. Verstappen's own record of 15 wins in a season is well within reach, and should he claim the race at Zandvoort he'll tie Sebastian Vettel's record of nine straight in a season, plus he'd have the opportunity to set the record at Monza the following weekend.
And when Verstappen hasn't won he's still finished on the podium. Verstappen is 12 out of 12 if you include his two second-place finishes (Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan). Only Michael Schumacher has finished on the podium for every race (17 for 17 in 2002) in a season. Separately, should Verstappen run the table then Red Bull Racing would lay claim to race wins at all 22 events in 2023, as teammate Sergio Perez has reached the other two times.
Perez would likely be the driver most would consider to be Verstappen's biggest challenger, but the Mexican has had a bit of a crisis in faith or confidence that has seen his form fade. The break came at a good time for Perez, as he has looked to be building momentum again and seemed back in the swing of things with a third-place finish at Hungary and a second at Spa.
Early in the season it appeared that Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin would be a threat for the top step, but after a terrific second-place run at Canada the Spaniard has finished fifth, seventh, ninth and fifth as Aston hasn't been able to match Red Bull Racing in making adjustments to improve the car. In that respect, the shock and surprise on the grid has been the McLaren of Lando Norris. He finished seventh last time out at Spa, but before that had finishes of fourth, second and second. That's better than Lewis Hamilton (eighth, third, fourth and fourth) and George Russell (seventh, fifth, sixth and sixth).
Another driver who was likely looking forward to getting away from the track for a bit was Charles Leclerc. Ferrari has not had the season it was expecting, but one perhaps we should've expected with a new team principal coming in along with a new way of doing things. Leclerc has looked like he wasn't interested at times and at other moments has looked like he had also lost confidence. He finished third at Zandvoort last year but doesn't look like the same driver this year. The same goes for his teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., who hasn't reached the podium in 2023 and was a DNF at Spa before the summer break.
What does it all mean? Well, the truth lies where the rubber meets the road, as the old ad saying goes. We'll find out on Sunday,
How to watch the F1 Grand Prix of Netherlands
- Date: Sunday, Aug. 27
- Location: 2.646 mile (4.259 kilometer), 14-turn Circuit Zandvoort, North Holland, Netherlands
- Time: 9 a.m. ET
- TV: ESPN, ESPN+
- Stream: fubo (try for free)
What to watch for
Zandvoort has two signature turns: Turn 1 "Tarzan Corner" and the Turn 7 "Scheivlak." The mythology of the "Tarzan" corner goes back to the original construction of the track and a Dutch farmer, nicknamed Tarzan, who refused to sell his tomato patch to be used for the track unless a corner was named after him. This is the most popular story, but apparently others exist that give a different origin to this fast, sweeping and large hairpin. "Scheivlak" is a Dutch word that roughly translates to mean "border," and before the track's construction this area marked which side was public land or private. During an earlier change to Zandvoort's layout "Scheivlak" was done away with, and it wasn't until the latest redesign of the circuit that it returned. Banking for many of the turns — it's as high as 18 degrees in Turn 3 and the 13-14 complex features 19-degree banking — makes Zandvoort a high-speed track that tests not only a driver's skill, but also their courage. There have been 13 fatalities since F1 debuted at the circuit in 1952, but only two over all competitions since the latest redesign came into being.
Those corners, plus elevation changes up to 29 feet, will give those Pirelli tires a mighty test, and the tire manufacturer has chosen to bring the C1 White (hard), C2 Yellow (Medium) and C3 Red (Soft) compounds for the weekend's activities, which is same as they have in the previous events with one exception: This year's C1 White hard-compound tires are a bit softer than last year's version. The 2022 race saw most drivers run a three-stop strategy, but get the math right and a two-stopper can be the path to victory at Zandvoort. Should the track prove not to be as aggressive in regard to tire wear it is even possible a few may roll the dice and go for a one-stopper, but with this year's hard compounds not being as robust as the previous that is not as likely.
Obviously, a safety car period — real or virtual — could throw all those strategies out the window.
With all the camber and elevation changes, along with how the circuit narrows at sections before opening back up, passing is not the easiest at Zandvoort. Once again it may come down to who qualifies the best and who is the bravest into the charge to "Tarzan," but we have already seen Verstappen win from deeper in the field, and it wouldn't amaze or surprise anyone if, should he not start from pole, he accomplishes the feat again before the Orange Army.