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Max gives his fans the result they deserve


If we may, we'll begin with an updated nursery rhyme.

"Weather Gods go away... please come back another day... like next Sunday, 10 October or 24 October... allowing for COVID-related schedule changes of course."

Let's face it, yesterday's qualifying session aside, after last week's shenanigans we need a 'normal' race day. And now, as we look ahead to one of the most keenly anticipated events of recent times, we want a straight forward head-to-head.

Once again we have Max and Lewis side-by-side on the front row, the pair separated by just 0.038s yesterday afternoon.

Though we are all salivating at the prospect of an epic battle, it is impossible not to recall that infamous opening lap at Silverstone.

Despite the enormous pressure - after all, this race could justifiably be called the Max Verstappen Grand Prix - the man appears as cool as the proverbial cucumber, but so does Lewis.

Indeed, one positively believes his claim that the partisan crowd's intimidation fuels him.

Whatever happens today, whether the race is decided by bad luck, good luck, poor reliability, poor strategy, wind (?) or whatever, all we ask is that there is no silliness, no more controversial comings together.

Last week F1 was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, let's see Max and Lewis put it back for all the right reasons.

In terms of strategy, Max has his work cut out, for teammate Sergio is starting from the pitlane.

Having qualified 16th, the Mexican has taken on a new engine and as a result will start from the pitlane - as will Latifi who has taken on a new nose/front wing assembly and gearbox.

Consequently, while Lewis will have the support of teammate Valtteri, Max is pretty much on his own, unless Pierre Gasly - having qualified an amazing fourth - can be called into play.

Without looking back into Zandvoort's infamous history, we know that this is a punishing, unforgiving circuit, and despite the excellent update it remains so.

Every session has been red-flagged at least once, indeed, six times in total, and there is every reason that this will be the case today also.

If the gravel traps don't get you, the barriers will, and only the bravest of the brave will be seeking out the circuit's few overtaking opportunities.

It's a pity last weekend was such a disaster, for despite the workload, this particular triple-header features three of the best circuits on the calendar.

And as if another Max/Lewis head-to-head wasn't enough, we have the prospect of a scintillating battle for best of the rest.

If, as we are being told, George is already secure at Mercedes for 2022, how will this impact Valtteri? Normally we would expect him to adopt his traditional 'wingman' role, but if he's heading to Alfa or Williams, what's to prevent him 'going solo' and putting his own ambitions first.

Pierre will be under pressure from the Ferrari pair, but they too will be under attack from the Alpines.

Strangely, McLaren and Aston Martin suffered mixed fortunes in qualifying, which should at least guarantee some fun at the back of the field, while Antonio starts from an impressive seventh.

While Pirelli remains undecided on strategy, this is going to be a major factor, and all the more reason why Red Bull will be ruing Sergio's failure to qualify at the other end of the grid. That said, the sceptic might wonder if starting from the pitlane might allow the Mexican to play a part this afternoon.

In an interesting move, just two hours ahead of the race, Michael Masi warned against drivers blocking rivals in the pitlane.

"The positioning of a car in the pit lane during the race, which impedes another car in the fast lane or prevents another car from stopping in or leaving its allocated pit stop position may be considered an infringement of the principles of fairness in a competition along with unsportsmanlike behaviour by a competitor and/or driver," he warns.

The race is a step into the unknown for everyone, but on paper a two-stopper and one-stopper seem quite closely matched - although this obviously depends on a number of different variables such as track temperature as well as tyre degradation.

In practice, the teams will always gravitate towards a one-stopper as the default option if they can: especially considering the tight and twisty confines of Zandvoort.

The optimal one-stop strategy consists of an opening stint on either the mediums or softs, followed by a longer final stint on the hards. Soft to medium seems a bit marginal, considering the expected wear and degradation rates.

However, there are a few question marks that could bring a two-stopper into play as well: especially if it's hot or if degradation is higher than expected on the soft tyre in particular.

All the top ten qualified on the red-banded rubber.

A safety car period or red flag is quite likely and would alter the complexion of the planned strategy entirely.

The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers head out. Among them, of course, is a certain Mr Verstappen. The crowd erupts and orange smoke fills the air.

Air temperature is 21.1 degrees C, while the track temperature is 35.5 degrees. It is bright and sunny. That said, once the race gets underway, much like when the cars first began appearing, the sun is likely to be obliterated by orange smoke.

Sainz and Leclerc assured that conditions will remain stable.

Other than the top ten qualifiers, Stroll, Tsunoda, Vettel and Schumacher start on softs, the rest, bar Perez, start on mediums. The Mexican starts on hards.

They head off on the formation lap, all getting away cleanly.

As the air turns orange, Verstappen is furiously working his tyres.

The grid forms, Verstappen's car pointing inwards towards his rival.

They're away! Caution is the word into and through Turn 1. Verstappen leads Hamilton and Bottas. There are no incidents.

In a sweet move, Alonso begins to pass his teammate and Giovinazzi on the banking at Turn 3. The Alfa driver holds him off and the trio close on Sainz. Running a little wide Giovinazzi is passed by both Alpines, who, it is shown, banged wheels in Turn 3, which gives Sainz some much needed breathing space.

At the end of the opening lap, Verstappen leads Hamilton by 1.734s, with Bottas third ahead of Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Alonso, Ocon, Ricciardo and Giovinazzi.

At the back, Perez is 19th and chasing Schumacher who has been passed by his Haas teammate.

Russell reports that Ricciardo's engine is smoking and dropping oil.

Verstappen continues to pull away from his title rival, and by the end of lap 4 he has a 2.3s advantage.

Having been passed by his teammate at the start, Ocon is all over Alonso.

"I'll struggle to keep this pace with these tyres," says Hamilton as Schumacher pits for a nose change following a clash with... who else, his teammate. He switches from softs to hards.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Zandvoort, here.


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