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Verstappen ups the ante in final practice

NEWS STORY
04/09/2021

Ahead of today's sole practice session the air temperature is 16.5 degrees C, while the track temperature is 25.8 degrees. There is 0% chance of rain... so we are told. Indeed, it is bright and sunny.

Two big stories this morning, one being that Robert Kubica replaces Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo after the Finn tested positive for COVID, while Max Verstappen has been summoned by the stewards for allegedly overtaking Lance Stroll under a red flag in FP2.

Early days, but while Red Bull appears to have the edge on outright pace, Mercedes appears to have better race pace. That said, we repeat, early days.

Ferrari was quickest in FP2, while Alpine was also looking good, however it is clear that qualifying will be vital.

Both of yesterday's session were red-flagged so the teams and drivers are still recovering the track. On the other hand, after that first day's action Zandvoort has got an overwhelming thumbs up from the drivers.

The lights go green and first out is Kubica, followed by Mazepin. The Pole on soft and the Russian on mediums.

Hamilton, who was sidelined for much of FP2, is among the first out, the Mercedes driver sporting softs, the Briton not having had the opportunity to run them previously.

Meanwhile, the stewards confirm that no further action will be taken over Verstappen.

Kubica posts 15.854 and Mazepin 15.930, only to be demoted when Hamilton crosses the line at 12.010.

"All good on the tyres, keep pushing," Kubica is told. Mazepin gets a similar gee-up.

Ricciardo (mediums) goes second with a 12.638, ahead of Schumacher, Mazepin and Kubica.

A 12.134 sees Norris (mediums) go second as Giovinazzi heads out.

Alonso goes top with an 11.996 as teammate Ocon, followed by Gasly and the Ferraris head out.

15 minutes in and only nine times on the board, with Verstappen yet to appear.

Having improved to 15.007, Kubica is told to pit as Hamilton posts an 11.964.

It's a Ferrari 1-2 again, as Leclerc posts 11.768 and Sainz an 11.940, however both are demoted when Alonso improves to 11.705.

Vettel takes a punishing ride through the gravel after running wide in Turn 10.

Meanwhile, an 11.900 sees Norris split the Ferraris for third.

As Bottas heads out, Verstappen remains the only no show.

The session is red-flagged when Sainz crashes at the entrance to the banked Turn 3. Asked if he is OK, he replies: "I'm OK, just no idea what happened.

The car is badly damaged -front and rear - after a high-speed spin exiting Turn 2 which slams him sideways into the barriers after losing the rear of the SF21.

The session resumes with 29 minutes remaining.

In no time at all there are 15 drivers on track, amongst is Verstappen.

On mediums, Verstappen immediately goes quickest in S1. A PB is S2 is followed by another purple as the Dutchman crosses the line at 11.217.

An 11.217 sees Bottas go quickest, albeit on the softs while Verstappen was on the mediums.

Due to the stoppage, Ocon is informed that his run plan has been changed, he won't be the only one.

Purples in all three sectors see Verstappen go quickest by 0.515s. The crowd erupts.

Moments later, Norris goes second (11.119) on softs, as Gasly goes fourth, ahead of Alonso, Leclerc and Perez.

"One thing that's become a characteristic of the Zandvoort circuit in the short time we've been here so far: lengthy stoppages," says Pirelli. "Makes the already difficult job of learning a new track and preparing for qualifying even more difficult!"

On the softs, Alonso goes quickest (1.670), as Hamilton is on a long run on the red-banded rubber, clearly making up for yesterday.

Ocon goes fourth (11.180) as Alpine continues to show good pace here.

Norris takes a trip through the gravel after making a mistake in Turn 9.

Kubica improves to 13.633, he's still 20th, but he's slowly getting there.

An 11.274 sees Russell go sixth, only to be demoted when Ricciardo stops the clock at 11.013.

Hamilton and Verstappen head out on fresh softs, as Bottas goes quickest in S1 on his fresh rubber. The Finn crosses the line at 10.670 to go top by 0.491.

Moments later, Hamilton responds with a 10.417, having lost time on Bottas particularly in S1.

A hat-trick of purples -aided by a perfect example of slipstreaming courtesy of his teammate in S3 -sees Verstappen go top by 0.556s.

"I guess the last sector won't get any better than that, in terms of a tow" he laughs, the Dutchman clearly aware of his teammate's contribution.

And talking of Perez, the Mexican goes fourth with a 10.526.

Stroll improves to seventh, just ahead of his Aston Martin teammate, with a 10.842.

A 12.162 sees Kubica go 18th, ahead of the Haas pair, and only just off Tsunoda's pace.

Hamilton, 0.7s off Verstappen's pace, is advised that his biggest loss is Turn 3, the Briton losing out in all aspects of the banked corner.

A mistake at the chicane sees Schumacher dump a whole load of pebbles on the track. "Massive tailwind there," he reports.

Moments later Leclerc takes a similar excursion. "I can't see the apex," he complains.

"I'm struggling with understeer," reports Gasly the Frenchman listing a number of corners where he is suffering.

The session ends. Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Bottas, Hamilton, Perez, Alonso, Norris, Stroll, Vettel, Leclerc and Gasly.

Ricciardo is eleventh, ahead of Latifi, Ocon, Russell, Giovinazzi, Sainz, Tsunoda, Mazepin, Kubica and Schumacher.

An interesting session which sets us up nicely for qualifying.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Zandvoort, here.

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