The countdown to Verstappen's likely third straight F1 title begins at the Dutch GP
The countdown to Max Verstappen's likely third straight Formula One title begins on Sunday at the Dutch Grand Prix. It's the first of 10 races remaining in a season which the Dutch driver has overwhelmingly dominated.
With a lead of 125 points over his nearest rival and Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, he can even afford to ease up a bit as F1 returns from its mid-season break.
But that's not in Verstappen's mentality.
At his home track in Zandvoort, he will be eyeing a ninth straight win to equal Sebastian Vettel's F1 record from 2013 and 11th overall this season.
That would move Verstappen closer to his own F1 record of 15 wins from last year and onto 46 overall. Despite being only 25 years old he is already fifth all-time for wins, with Alain Prost (51) and Vettel (53) within his sights this year.
Verstappen's near-faultless driving, allied to the fastest car, means some observers are even touting Red Bull to win every remaining race this year.
“Honestly, I don’t think we really think about it too much," Verstappen said. "Of course, we want to win here (at Zandvoort), there’s no secret about that. It’s always very special here, so for sure that’s the target for the weekend.”
Cheered on by his Orange Army of fans, Verstappen has won the last two races at the sinewy and high-banking 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) track by the seaside. But a mixed weather forecast gives a chance of rain on each day.
“(With) the track, and the weather that is forecast, I think it’s always a bit more tricky," Verstappen said. "We’ll see. We have a quick car, but it’s again about putting everything together to have a really strong weekend.”
Perez has won the other two races this season for an all-conquering Red Bull team which has a massive lead in the constructors' championship — scoring more than double the points Mercedes has managed.
A victory Sunday will extend the team's F1 record to 14 straight wins including last season's final race.
IT'S NOT UNFAIR
Some observers say F1 should modify the rules to make this lopsided season more competitive, but Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. is not among them.
He says it's not unfair, and wouldn't have it any other way if he was in Verstappen's position.
“If my team had done what Red Bull had done, and I am doing the the job Max has been doing, I wouldn't want Formula One to change anything because I think we (would) deserve to be in the position we are in,” Sainz said. “They've simply done an incredible job with this year's car and Max is driving at a very high level. He obviously has a bit of margin to do a mistake here and there and still win the race, but he's not doing any big mistakes.”
Ferrari has not won since Charles Leclerc's victory at last year's Austrian GP on July 10 — a week after Sainz's win at the British GP.
But Sainz has not given up hope.
“I don't fully believe Max is going to win every weekend. Obviously I know what my chances or my probabilities are but there's still a probability that Ferrari can win a race this season,” Sainz said. “No one's perfect, hopefully at some point during the season Red Bull makes a mistake, and I go into every weekend thinking I need to be there to grab it.”
While Verstappen collects points for fun — 314 and counting — Williams driver Logan Sargeant is striving for his first one.
The 22-year-old American is one of three drivers without a point. The other two are Nyck De Vries and eight-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo — who replaced De Vries at AlphaTauri in July, but will miss Sunday's race after fracturing his hand in a crash during the second practice session on Friday.
Sargeant is under no illusions that his first F1 season could also become his last.
“It's F1, the pressure's always there. It doesn't matter what position you're in, what team you're in," he said. "It's a performance-driven sport and I think we all understand that. It's going to ultimately come down to that, how I perform and how I improve.”
Williams uses a Mercedes engine and Mercedes’ reserve driver is German Mick Schumacher, who was cut by Haas for this season and is looking for a seat in 2024.
Verstappen led the first practice on Friday ahead of Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, while McLaren's Lando Norris topped the second practice ahead of Verstappen and Williams driver Alex Albon.
Ricciardo was injured after crashing into the barriers at a turn during the second session and was taken to a hospital for X-rays before being ruled out of Sunday's race.
AlphaTauri said the 34-year-old Australian fractured a bone in his left hand and will be replaced by reserve driver Liam Lawson, a New Zealander who is set to make his F1 debut.
The second practice session was suspended after just 10 minutes when McLaren driver Oscar Piastri and Ricciardo crashed at the same corner.
Earlier, Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg crashed near the end of P1 when he slid into the barriers.
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