Max Verstappen could not be caught in FP3 ahead of qualifying as the Dutch driver lit up the timing screens to set himself up for a probable pole.
The Red Bull was comfortably quicker than either Mercedes driver could manage in qualifying sims, adding to the confidence it would have gained from strong race simulations on Friday.
Valtteri Bottas was his closest challenger, ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton as the latter tried to make up for his lost track time yesterday.
Ferrari’s strong Friday fell away to a difficult morning on Saturday. Charles Leclerc couldn’t find much improvement in the final qualifying sim run while team-mate Carlos Sainz crashed at Turn Three, potentially damaging the race gearbox in his Ferrari.
Here is how practice unfolded at Zandvoort ahead of the 2021 Dutch Grand Prix.
Huge roars went up for cars leaving the garages, especially the no33 Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Plenty of drivers were immediately out to get to grips with the tricky Zandvoort circuit that didn’t wait long to catch someone out.
Yuki Tsunoda was the first spinner of the weekend, pirrouettting at Turn 10 on his reconnaisance lap and getting going once again.
Esteban Ocon was off track next, running deep into the Turn 11 right-hander before rejoining.
A suspected MGU-K issue prompted Sebastian Vettel to dive back into the pits with just over five minutes gone in FP1, hardly the start Aston Martin had hoped for.
AlphaTauri’s wobbly start to the session continued as Pierre Gasly had a close call with the barriers at Turn Three. A snap of oversteer sent him wide but he avoided any contact with the walls though reported he had lost a mirror around the lap.
Verstappen wasted little time pleasing the home crowd. He was the first man into the 1min 12s to set the pace on a 1min 12.850sec on the hard compound tyres. He lowered that target by a further tenth of a second on his next flying lap to go 0.025sec ahead of Valtteri Bottas.
The first red flag was out with 17 minutes gone as Vettel’s car came to a halt at pit exit. The four-time champion was quick to ask for a fire extinguisher as smoke emanated from the rear of his AMR21 and tried to put the fire out himself.
After a lengthy remonstration with marshals on the scene, race control found an extinguisher to send over to the stranded Aston as smoke continued to stream out of the airbox.
Eventually Aston Martin mechanics arrived with gloves to recover the car, thought to be electrically live still due to the ERS system’s state.
The half-hour stoppage meant the session went green again with six minutes remaining, prompting a major queue at the end of the pit lane.
Plenty opted for soft tyres to get some quick times in but the traffic was a major issue around the narrow and high-speed circuit.
Rapid improvements filtered in as Carlos Sainz, Bottas and then Lewis Hamilton went to the top of the times, while Verstappen filtered into third on his effort.
The Dutchman didn’t back off for a cooldown lap and improved to second position, 0.097sec down on Hamilton’s time.
The start of FP2 was delayed by five minutes, not that it dimmed the enthusiasm of the Dutch crowd in attendance cheering from the stands.
Plenty of drivers were out on track immediately as the lights went green at the end of the pit lane following the morning’s delay.
Mercedes opened the afternoon with an early one-two but for Hamilton, his session was over within five minutes.
He was instructed to park his car, bringing out the red flags as Verstappen opened up his first flying lap. His stoppage was met with cheers from the Orange Army but curtailed running early on. Hamilton reported over his radio that he was losing power before coming to a halt at Turn Eight.
FP2 resumed with 45 minutes on the clock and everyone quickly out on track once more. Verstappen slotted into P2 behind Bottas on his first effort while Vettel hit the ground running in ninth after his morning issues.
Approaching the half-hour mark, Bottas was fitted with the soft compound tyres for a flying effort, bringing down the P1 time to a 1min 11.353sec.
Esteban Ocon had been in fourth place after the first runs on medium tyres but leapfrogged the Finn to go fastest of all on a 1min 11.074sec. Bottas improved on a subsequent effort but couldn’t topple the Frenchman from P1.
Verstappen wound up for a hot lap on softs but once again, red flags wrecked his lap as Nikita Mazepin spun into the gravel at Turn 11, beaching the Haas in the gravel.
The session resumed with 23 minutes left and Charles Leclerc shot to the top of the times for Ferrari. Team-mate Carlos Sainz popped into second to make it a Ferrari one-two as the clock ticked into the final 20 minutes of Friday running.
Long runs took up the remainder of the session and Verstappen’s pace on soft tyres bodes well for Red Bull heading into Sunday. He was some sixth-tenths of a second quicker than Bottas on average, though Pierre Gasly’s efforts for AlphaTauri also stood out on the softs.
Robert Kubica was the first out on track for Saturday practice. The Pole is back in at Alfa Romeo this weekend after Kimi Räikkönen returned a positive test for Covid-19 overnight.
Hamilton was another out early, the Mercedes driver eager to make up for lost time having completed just three laps in FP2. He posted up a 1min 12.010sec on his first effort with soft compound tyres.
McLaren showed some strong early pace, Daniel Ricciardo slotting in behind Hamiliton six-tenths down on the top time while Lando Norris jumped into second 0.124sec down but both were on the medium tyres.
With a quarter of the session gone, Leclerc restored Ferrari to the top of the times from Sainz once again until Norris improved to split the Scuderia. Fernando Alonso then went quickest for Alpine as the track began to rubber in again with conditions improving.
Vettel’s weekend had been far from straight forward and the Aston Martin driver had an early scare in FP3. He had a wide moment at Turn 10, running across the gravel and narrowly avoiding the wall.
The first red flag of the day was for a crash at Turn Three involving Sainz. The Ferrari driver lost the rear end of his car, spinning into the wall at the top of the banking. He impacted side on, potentially damaging his race gearbox.
A busy pit lane awaited the green light that came with 28 minutes left of FP3. Vettel had another scare, this time coming at Turn Three with a snap of oversteer almost putting him in the wall at the exit of the banking.
Verstappen had not yet set a time all day but his first effort put him half a second clear on mediums until Bottas took top spot with soft tyres by a slender 0.008sec. The Red Bull driver’s subsequent lap restored him to first, 0.5sec clear and well into the 1min 10s.
Two purple sectors for Alonso lifted him into P1 on a 1min 10.670sec. Norris had gone third fastest but was the next driver to venture off into the gravel, sliding wide at Turn Nine before pitting at the end of the lap.
Bottas’s qualifying sim with over 10 minutes remaining put him top with a 1min 10.179sec while Hamilton’s effort was 0.2sec down on his team-mate. Verstappen’s lap though was rapid. The Red Bull driver went half a second clear again and straight into the 1min 09s. His 1min 09.623sec came with a healthy tow from team-mate Sergio Perez, timed perfectly by the team.
Mick Schumacher took a trip through the gravel at Turn 11 with five minutes to go. The Haas driver ran deep with a snap of oversteer, cutting across the run off area. Leclerc repeated the mistake minutes later in the sole remaining Ferrari.