Welcome to the 2021 Dutch GP Race Review! F1’s return to the Netherlands was a fan favourite, with the atmosphere and the Circuit Zandvoort being better than expected. The Dutch Grand Prix was going to return to Formula 1 in 2020, after a 35-year absence. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, F1 cancelled the 2020 Dutch GP. The Dutch F1 fans wouldn’t be able to watch the race from the grandstands. The charm and the atmosphere wouldn’t have been there.
That is why the better decision would be to return to F1 at the 2021 Dutch GP instead. And that decision proved to be a brilliant decision since Max Verstappen was able to win his home race in front of his home fans. Verstappen became the first Dutch driver to win in the Netherlands, and this win was the perfect way to mark the return of Zandvoort to F1.
Behind Verstappen were the two Mercedes drivers. It’s pretty clear that Mercedes were unable to match Verstappen and Red Bull at the 2021 Dutch GP. Both of the Red Bull drivers were on fire today, while the Mercedes driver didn’t have the pace and the right strategy to beat Verstappen. Red Bull had to change some of Perez’s engine components, which is why Perez started the race from the pitlane. But Perez pulled off a stellar drive to finish in P8, which also earned him Driver of the Day. We’ll look into that comeback later on in this post.
While Mercedes currently have a 12-point lead in the teams’ championship, Verstappen has retaken the lead of the drivers’ championship, albeit by only 3 points. The 2021 Italian GP is where Red Bull will be pushing even harder to try and retake the championship lead from Mercedes.
Red Bull aren’t the only team that will try to make amends. McLaren will be trying even harder to get the better of Ferrari. McLaren struggled in the Netherlands, whereas Ferrari scored a good 16-point haul. And at Ferrari’s home race, with the fans behind them, McLaren have a mountain to overcome. Williams has been having a stellar season so far, but they didn’t score any points at the 2021 Dutch GP. With Monza being the Temple of Speed, Williams has a chance to score well and add the 2021 Italian GP to their list of successful races in 2021.
So here’s what we’ll be going through and analysing in the 2021 Dutch GP Race Review. First of all, we’ll talk about our opinion on whether the race itself was exciting enough. Then, we’ll analyse why Mercedes’ strategy failed, and why Verstappen was simply unbeatable. And finally, we’ll look at Sergio Perez’s incredible drive.
Was The Racing Itself Exciting Enough?
Everyone in the F1 world and beyond was talking about how the Circuit Zandvoort has some incredibly banked corners, and how the circuit has a lot of elevation change since it flows with the sand dunes. And on top of that was the amazing aura and spirit of the Dutch fans that roared throughout the stadium. The fans got a little bit out of control, to be honest.
They were actually asked to stop lighting flares since smoke on the track was limiting visibility for drivers. But what about the racing itself? Did the Circuit Zandvoort provide the exciting racing that F1 fans love? Many, including me, were sceptical about this coming into the Dutch GP weekend. But I think that the Dutch GP wasn’t mundane or boring at all. I was quite surprised by how much action there was in this race. There were some really great moments throughout. One of the best moments was when that sandwich bag got stuck in Esteban Ocon’s brake on Lap 46.
But all jokes aside, when I saw the Circuit Zandvoort, the one thing that was missing was proper overtaking opportunities, yet some corners, especially Turn 1, didn’t fail to provide overtakes. The banked final corner allowed the drivers to optimise their exits and try and make some overtakes down into Turn 1. But before that, the start of the race saw some great action going through Turn 1 AND beyond.
At the start of the race, we saw many drivers gaining and losing places. There were many lock-ups as the drivers tried to keep it clean through the narrow twists and turns. The Alpine drivers, in particular, made contact with each other and a couple of other drivers as they tried to gain positions. The melee at the start saw Antonio Giovinazzi lose positions, which is why he couldn’t convert that quali performance into a points finish.
During the rest of the race, Turn 1, which has the name “Tarzan corner”, provided even more action. We saw Sergio Perez making some fantastic moves into Turn 1 (more on his performance later). The banking of the corner allowed drivers to overtake around the outside, which always woos the fans. We also saw drivers like the Aston Martin and Haas teammates try and make some moves, and we also saw Max Verstappen overtake Bottas for the lead of the race down into Tarzan corner.
Turn 3 was also a hot topic since it has even steeper banking than the final corner. The racing line that the drivers use through Turn 3 is different to the line that was initially expected. The drivers go around the outside and use the corner as a slingshot. After trying that in the F1 game, I can confirm that the inside line is not the way to go. And a few drivers, including Giovinazzi, found that out the hard way, as their momentum and performance was rather compromised. But none other than Sebastian Vettel found the worst of the inside line of Turn 3. Vettel was trying to get past an Alfa Romeo by using the inside line, but he found himself in a half-spin instead.
There’s one thing that’s disappointing, however, and that’s the TV direction. The TV direction was so focused on the top 3 that the people watching the race from their homes missed out on the real action and overtaking in the midfield. I think the midfield being so close, together with the title fight is what’s making the 2021 F1 season so good. Solely focusing on the Top 3 is not going to work. That’s why I think the TV focus should’ve been more spread out.
But apart from the pure action, there was also the strategies that the teams were going for. It was very intriguing to see what Mercedes were trying to do, and how Red Bull were reacting to Mercedes’ strategy calls. Strategy is exactly what we’re going to discuss next. But before that, I want to conclude that I thought the Dutch GP was a success and was exciting. I think that when F1 returns to the Netherlands in 2022, this race is going to be even more incredible thanks to the regulation changes.
Why Mercedes’ Strategy Failed
It’s safe to say that Mercedes didn’t achieve what everyone expected them to. Mercedes themselves thought they had the upper hand at the 2021 Dutch GP, and why wouldn’t they? Max Verstappen was all alone at the front, while his Red Bull teammate was making his way up from the back. Mercedes had both of their drivers in 2nd and 3rd, and they were trying to use that advantage to try and snatch the win from Verstappen. They could’ve used Bottas and his strategy to try and get Hamilton on the optimal strategy. That would’ve given Hamilton the race win.
But Mercedes’ strategy didn’t exactly go to plan. There are two major mistakes that Mercedes made which ruined their chances to take the dub. Their first mistake happened at the first pitstop that Hamilton made. Hamilton pit on Lap 21, in an attempt to get an undercut on Max Verstappen. The undercut attempt failed, because Hamilton’s pitstop was 3.6 seconds long. That was 0.9 seconds longer than Verstappen’s pitstop. By F1 standards, Verstappen’s pitstop was a fairly slow one. Hamilton’s pitstop was even more suboptimal.
However, things started to look up after that. Mercedes kept Bottas out, and didn’t make him pit until Lap 31. Bottas started the race on the soft tires, since those are the tires he used in Q3. A good time to pit and to get rid of the soft tires is at around Lap 25, since that’s when the tires become unbearable. But Mercedes purposely kept Bottas out so that he could either go for a one-stop and gain time on his opponents, or so that he could hold Verstappen up by being super slow on worn tires. The one-stop didn’t work at all, but Bottas did do a great job of holding Verstappen up.
On Lap 30, Bottas slowed Verstappen up enough to allow Hamilton to come within a second of Verstappen. But when the tri arrived at the Turn 11/12 chicane, Bottas locked up and ran wide. He stayed on track, but Verstappen was right on his tail now. Verstappen used that slingshot momentum out of the final corner to get past Bottas down into Tarzan corner as the leaders entered Lap 31.
Bottas held Verstappen up a lot, but if he didn’t make that mistake, he could’ve held Verstappen up for another lap. Valtteri let Hamilton past at the exit of Turn 1. From then on, it was just Hamilton and Verstappen in it for the win. Bottas did try and catch up to Hamilton and Verstappen after his pitstop, but his charge was ruined as he had to slow down to avoid the half-spun Vettel on Lap 37.
On Lap 40, Mercedes took a wrong call that ruined Hamilton’s race and tightened Verstappen’s grip on the race win. Mercedes pulled Hamilton into the pits, with an undercut in mind. The undercut would’ve worked if Hamilton’s pitstop was really fast, and the backmarkers had a really slow lap to allow Hamilton to come out of the pits in front of them. If that would’ve happened, Verstappen would’ve had a lot more work to do.
But Mercedes took too much of a gamble by pitting Hamilton. I can see why Mercedes would take that decision. They want to get an undercut, they don’t want Verstappen to undercut them, and they don’t want to pit too early, so that they can make it to the end of the race. But a circuit like the Circuit Zandvoort, where overtaking cars and cutting through traffic isn’t as easy, taking a risk like that could end up being costly. And it cost Hamilton the race win.
By Lap 63, Verstappen had a 3.8-second gap to Hamilton. With only 9 laps to go in the race, and with Hamilton reporting that he’s struggling with his tires, things looked set for Verstappen. Come to Lap 67, and Bottas pit for a set of soft tires to try and go for the fastest lap of the race. But when he was on a really fast lap, which was on Lap 70, Bottas was told to abort the attempt. He followed those orders, but he still ended up with the fastest lap anyway.
Hamilton needed every point he could get. That’s why he pit on Lap 71 for a set of softs to go for the fastest lap. Once again in 2021, Mercedes accepted defeat, and decided to just go for the fastest lap and salvage whatever they could. It was a disappointment, albeit under difficult circumstances. Now, let’s take a look at Sergio Perez’s phenomenal comeback.
Sergio Perez’s INSANE Comeback
In the words of Crofty (the F1 commentator), Perez has got his mojo back. Before the 2021 Dutch GP, Perez had 3 races in a row where he didn’t score any points. It was hugely disappointing and difficult for Perez and for his fans. But all of that struggle made Perez’s performance at the Dutch GP even better. Let’s take a look at exactly what Perez pulled off on Sunday.
Perez started the race from the pitlane since Red Bull broke parc fermé rules. Red Bull took an informed decision to give Checo a new Power Unit before the Dutch GP so that he can use that new PU at the Temple of Speed in Monza. Starting from the pitlane is terrible because the driver in the pitlane has to wait until all of the drivers have raced past the pit exit before actually starting the race. Drivers starting in the pitlane are usually far behind the rest of the field.
That would easily make someone feel down going into a race. But that wasn’t the case at all when it came to Checo Perez. Perez was a man on a mission at Zandvoort. He was just tearing through the field, making moves left, right and centre. He pitted for the first time on Lap 8, which is VERY early in the race. But with the fresh tires, Sergio was making great progress. Come to Lap 37, and he’s at the brink of the points-paying positions. And even better, he was within 1 second Lando Norris, who was in P10.
This is when the REALLY hard work began. Perez was no longer chasing after slower cars. He was trying to beat drivers that were racing in competent cars, the cars that were towards the top of the midfield. On Lap 47, Perez pit for a set of soft tires, after pulling off a HUGE stint on one set of tires. It was likely to be a set of mediums since Checo wouldn’t have had enough pace on the hard tires to make those overtakes in the bottom 10.
After the 2nd pitstops, Perez was behind Daniel Ricciardo, since the McLaren drivers swapped places. On Lap 53, McLaren instructed Ricciardo to hold Perez up so that Perez wouldn’t go on and chase after Norris. Perez was within 1 second of Ricciardo at the time. However, 3 laps later, Perez made a move down into Turn 1. Ricciardo defended the inside line, which is the proper way to defend a position. But Perez used the banking of Tarzan corner to his advantage and swooped around the outside of the McLaren.
It only took Checo 10 laps to catch up to Lando Norris, which showed that Perez was making those soft tires work brilliantly. Norris defended Perez down into Turn 1 in the same way that Ricciardo did. At the exit of the corner, however, Norris tried to push Perez off the track. Perez managed to stay on the track, but the Red Bull and the McLaren made contact twice at the exit of the corner. It wasn’t fair racing from Norris, but Perez got past into Turn 3 anyways. It was major contact; Norris’s tire and suspension was lifted up as he tried to squeeze Perez out.
With only 6 laps remaining in the race, you might think that Perez would just bring the car home. But F1 drivers are ALWAYS hungry for more. Come to Lap 71, the penultimate Lap of the race. Perez clearly had a lot more grip than Ocon, who was the car ahead. So through Turns 9 and 10, Perez optimised his racing line to set up his exit out of Turn 10. He nailed it, and he passed Ocon down the straight and secured P8 through the chicane of Turns 11 and 12. It was a masterful drive from Perez, and it certainly deserved Driver of the Day.
The 2021 Dutch GP was a memorable race, both because of the atmosphere and because of the action. The next F1 race is the 2021 Italian GP, which takes place at the Autodromo Internazionale Monza, a.k.a the Temple of Speed. Stay safe, stay on the lookout for new posts, and enjoy F1ntastic!