In a turbulent rain-hit race amidst the tension of the 2023 Formula 1 season, we saw Championship leader Max Verstappen keep his cool. His unflappable display during a six-lap shootout post a red flag following heavy rain allowed him to perfectly manage a restart over Fernando Alonso. In doing so, Verstappen managed to extend his winning streak in the already dominant season.
The 61st lap of the race became a bottleneck due to a gush of heavy rainfall. This caused a halt as FIA stewards waited for an improvement in weather conditions. The unforeseen pause presented Verstappen with an unanticipated challenge to his lead since he’d established control from lap 12 onwards.
Alonso came dangerously close on the restart, lurking in Verstappen’s shadow right at the first corner. However, the reigning champion didn’t falter but exploited the situation, building an impressive lead of 3.7 seconds by the end of the race. This triumph allowed him to extend his championship lead further.
The racetrack started to get wet at dawn with light sprinkles gradually transforming into a heavy downpour. This left the circuit, towards the end of the lap, distinguishably wet, prompting numerous opportunistic drivers to pit speedily. Sergio Perez was among this group, opting for an intermediate compound of tyre suiting the worsening race conditions.
Verstappen, however, chose to pit on the following lap. His diminishing speed on the soft tyre allowed Perez, with the right tyres, to emerge ahead. Despite this, Verstappen, on his intermediate tyre managed an impressive comeback. He sliced his way through the race order, quickly advancing to second position after overtaking first-lap stoppers Zhou Guanyu and Pierre Gasly, then setting his sights on Perez.
As the track started to dry, indicators from drivers hinted at a transition point encouraging the intermediate runners to pit again. Verstappen seized the opportunity, pitting before Perez on the closing of lap 11 for a fresh set of soft tyres. Swiftly enough, Verstappen managed to get an edge over and undercut Perez, who pitted a lap later.
Then, Logan Sargeant’s collision with the wall at Turn 8 led to a safety car intervention on lap 16. At its restart, however, on lap 22, Perez couldn’t match Verstappen and had to ward off a spirited Alonso into Turn 1. Another pitstop soon ensued for both on the newly dried track. Perez’s early stop four laps prior didn’t affect Verstappen’s stronghold on the lead.
Verstappen was caught by surprise with a sudden change in weather conditions as the radar showed signs of upcoming heavy showers. It made landfall at the Dutch coastal resort of Zandvoort on the 60th lap. With conditions still dry enough for another lap, Verstappen decided to continue on track while Perez opted for his intermediate tyres again.
With worsening weather, Verstappen managed to pit once again on lap 61 and claim his intermediates without risking too much time. However, Perez’s chances were blemished drastically when he veered off the track due to slipping at Turn 1 on lap 63. He barely managed to miss the gravel but handed over the second place to Alonso.
Zhou’s unfortunate crash at the first corner under continuing rain forced the FIA to declare a red flag from the initial virtual safety car. Fortunately for Perez, while he was held back for his wet tyres, the pitlane exit was closed and the order brought back to the previous lap. This helped him as his long stationary wait at the traffic lights didn’t cost him.
Following a lengthy 43-minute delay, the final eight laps were resumed, two of them being behind the safety car and the remaining six laps deciding the fate of the race. Despite Alonso’s commendable attempts to gain an advantage, he was easily surpassed by the speed of the Red Bull driver, Verstappen.
Continuing his unstoppable pace, Verstappen eventually matched Sebastian Vettel‘s streak of achieving nine F1 wins at the end of 2013. He was accompanied on the podium by Alonso and Gasly while Perez faced a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane during the red flag authorization.
With six laps remaining, a fierce contest unfolded between Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton for the fifth position. Despite persistent pressure, Hamilton couldn’t displace Sainz. Hamilton, having opted for slicks, had to give in at the end of the third lap for intermediates, pushing him down the order.
Hamilton, however, managed to recover, finishing the race in sixth place. Norris, not far behind, secured the seventh position following an intense bout with Russell. Russell, hoping for a podium finish, suffered due to his ill-fated initial decision for intermediates, but salvaged some points with a long stint on hard tyres. A collision with Norris, however, sent him off track and back into the pits. The Schwartzman-Piastri battle later pushed Norris down to tenth place. Alex Albon secured the eighth place after his decision to switch to intermediates cost him dearly in the second downpour. He was followed by Oscar Piastri who secured ninth place. Esteban Ocon completed the scorer’s list in the 10th position.