Three red flag stoppages during a wet third practice weren’t enough to stop Red Bull’s Max Verstappen from taking top spot in Zandvoort.
All eyes were on rookie driver Liam Lawson on Saturday morning, with the Kiwi driver given the nod to take over Daniel Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri following the Australian breaking a bone in his hand during Friday practice.
Already facing a baptism of fire with having to quickly find his feet with only a single practice session to acclimatise to the car and the track ahead of qualifying, the scale of the challenge facing Lawson only increased as the heavens opened with a deluge of rain falling upon Zandvoort throughout the morning.
Max Verstappen lucky to avoid the barriers in early mistake
With air temperatures of around 14 degrees celsius, track temperatures were low at around 18 degrees, but the Dutch fans were still out in force to chant, dance, and sing along as the session began promptly on time with the sun threatening to break through the cloud cover.
Their patience was rewarded as Verstappen was the first driver to take to the track in the wet conditions, followed quickly by Lawson as the rookie aimed to get as much track time as possible. Verstappen was lucky to get away with a dramatic moment almost immediately, as he lost the rear of the RB19 exiting Hugenholtz and just about managed to get away with not hitting the barrier as he wrested back control.
Verstappen radioed in to say “I don’t know what happened there, I just lost all grip,” before returning to the pits and take a deep breath, while McLaren’s Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri decided to get in some running on the intermediate tyre – the two Alpine drivers opting for the same compound.
Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez slid off into the gravel just a few seconds later, further raising team boss Christian Horner’s heart rate, but the Mexican was able to get himself back on track to resume.
But, with Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg bringing out the red flags on Friday, it was teammate Kevin Magnussen who did the same with 10 minutes gone in FP3, just a few seconds after emerging from the pitlane.
The Danish driver, running the intermediate, lost control going through the Hugenholtz and spun out – hitting the barriers hard enough to knock his left front wheel askew. Apologising over team radio, Magnussen climbed free to return back to the pits and face team boss Guenther Steiner – probably not a task he was savouring as Steiner made it clear he was ‘quite pi**ed off’ as he spoke to Sky F1 about the incident.
More drivers slide off, with Liam Lawson triggering red flag
The circuit was still very slippery, as evidenced by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc sliding harmlessly off in his Ferrari, while Verstappen struggled to keep his Red Bull facing in the right direction. Also struggling was Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, who slid off into the gravel at the final corner to bring out a second red flag.
While all the drivers were pirouetting off or struggling to keep their cars pointing the right way, it was Verstappen who had set the pace by the midway point of the session, with a meaningless 1:25.197 on the full wet tyre – 1.5 seconds clear of Friday pacesetter Norris. Just 13 drivers had set a time on the board by the time the session resumed with just 25 minutes remaining, with the drivers all choosing the intermediate for the final portion of practice.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was the next to slide off, replicating Leclerc’s mistake at Turn 1, but managing to get back onto the track as he radioed in to report a lock-up into the turn. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon also slid off at Turn 1, with Ocon needing to engage reverse gear in order to extricate himself.
The two McLarens moved to the top with 15 minutes to go, with Norris popping in a 1:23.77 on the intermediates to go 1.2 seconds clear of Piastri, while Perez shuffled Verstappen down to fourth.
The red flags were shown a third time with 10 minutes to go, with Lawson losing the rear of his AlphaTauri going through the final corner. While he made light contact with the barriers, he was able to gather it back up to get back to the pits, but the red flag had already been shown. However, the stoppage was very short, with the action resuming just two minutes later.
The drama didn’t end there, though, with Leclerc sliding off at Tarzanbocht again and needing to reverse out, while Verstappen managed to put in a clean lap to go quickest – improving further on a second flying lap as the conditions ramped up quickly in the final minutes.
The Dutch driver did a 1:21.31 to go 1.1 seconds quicker than Mercedes’ George Russell – holding onto top spot until the chequered flag, although Russell closed the gap down to 0.379 seconds.
Perez finished third, exactly a second slower than Verstappen, with Alonso rising to fourth, ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, and the ever-impressive Williams of Alex Albon.
Piastri wound up in seventh, with Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas in eighth. Leclerc, who slid off once again at Tarzan just before the session ended, wound up ninth, with Norris ending the session in 10th.
2023 Dutch Grand Prix: Third Practice (FP3) Results
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:21.631
2 George Russell Mercedes +0.379
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing +1.000
4 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +1.003
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +1.092
6 Alexander Albon Williams +1.119
7 Oscar Piastri McLaren +1.261
8 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +1.334 4
9 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1.462
10 Lando Norris McLaren +1.527
11 Pierre Gasly Alpine +1.579
12 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +1.807
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1.913
14 Logan Sargeant Williams +1.939
15 Nico Hulkenberg Haas F1 Team +2.009
16 Esteban Ocon Alpine +2.175
17 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +2.427
18 Liam Lawson AlphaTauri +4.712
19 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo +6.851
20 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team NO TIME