Max Verstappen took a record-equalling ninth consecutive race victory at a frantic Dutch Grand Prix on Sunday, with the weather throwing up a thrilling race at Zandvoort.
Fernando Alonso took a superb second place for Aston Martin, and Pierre Gasly was promoted to third after a time penalty for Sergio Perez dropped him to fourth after crossing the line.
The race was halted for a red flag following a heavy crash for Zhou Guanyu in a late downpour, before it resumed for the final seven laps in wet conditions, with a time penalty for Perez bumping him off the podium after speeding in the pit lane.
Chaos ensues as weather plays its part at Dutch Grand Prix
The race was set to start in dry conditions, but all indications on weather radars were that rain could well play its part in the Dutch Grand Prix, with predictions that wet weather could come around 20 minutes in.
With Verstappen flanked by Norris, George Russell and the Williams of Alex Albon behind, the drivers pulled up to the grid with a couple of spots of rain already arriving at Zandvoort.
And when debutant Liam Lawson pulled up to the back of the grid, the lights went out and Verstappen kept the lead from the McLaren driver.
The best starter towards the front was Fernando Alonso, who jumped up from fifth to third with a daring move down on the inside of the banking at Turn 3, leaping ahead of both Russell and Albon in the process.
But the predictions of rain came much earlier than anticipated, with the drivers already kicking up spray before the end of the first lap.
Alonso moved ahead of Norris for second place, but Sergio Perez was the first of the runners to pit for intermediate tyres, with Charles Leclerc also coming in – but Ferrari were not ready to receive him for new tyres, leaving the Ferrari driver stranded in his pit box for several seconds and falling down the order, though it later transpired Leclerc had not informed his team that he was coming in.
Verstappen and Alonso both pitted a lap later for inters, but Russell and Norris opted to stay out and the Mercedes driver dived down the inside of his compatriot for the lead of the race – but by the middle of lap 3, it was Perez who scythed through the pack to take the lead of the Dutch Grand Prix himself.
It was truly a lesson on being on the right tyre at the right time, as fellow early stoppers Pierre Gasly, Leclerc and Zhou Guanyu flew towards the top of the standings.
By the end of the third lap, very few people would have predicted Perez holding an 11-second lead over Alfa Romeo driver Zhou in second and Alpine’s Gasly in third.
Some drivers opted to brave it and stay on dry tyres but fell right down the order, with Albon and Oscar Piastri down to 14th and 15th respectively, and by the time Russell and Norris pitted, they were also out of the points-paying positions.
Verstappen worked his way up to fourth and onto Gasly’s tail, moving up the inside at Turn 3 but the Frenchman will contend he got forced off the track at the banked corner, but it was a much cleaner pass a lap later as Verstappen sailed past Zhou at the same corner by lap 7.
So it was a Red Bull 1-2, but perhaps in the opposite order to what we were expecting, with Perez holding a nine-second lead over his team-mate.
An orchestrated move at Ferrari allowed Carlos Sainz to overtake Leclerc for P6, with the Monégasque driver suffering with wing damage, and Sainz instructing his team: “Don’t slow me down, please.”
But by lap 10, some drivers opted to switch to slicks again, with Kevin Magnussen and Lewis Hamilton pitting a second time to move back to dry rubber – with Oscar Piastri, who did not pit at all, clocking a lap some five seconds faster than race leader Perez.
Verstappen pitted a lap later for Red Bull while Perez stayed out, which meant that when the Mexican came in for slick tyres himself, the track improvement was such that the Dutchman was comfortably able to take the lead of the race, while his team-mate slotted into P2.
“Did Max undercut us?” Came the response from Perez, as a sign of him not being in the know regarding his team-mate’s position at the time.
Meanwhile, Russell came onto team radio and asked “how did we mess this up?” with he and Hamilton running all the way down in 18th and 16th respectively in what was looking like a disastrous afternoon for Mercedes – but all this had taken place, with only 15 laps of 72 on the board.
But it wasn’t long before the Safety Car was added to the mix, as Logan Sargeant, who had already been lapped, crashed out at the high-speed Turn 8.
The Williams driver was able to clamber out of his car, but it was a high-speed impact at what is a 130mph corner, clipping the inside kerb and claiming “something failed” on the car as he was unable to turn in, which left him helpless as he piled towards the barrier.
There were a couple of stoppers behind the Safety Car, with Russell and Mercedes gambling on hard tyres, along with Lance Stroll and Aston Martin trying the same.
Gasly was still running an impressive fourth for Alpine, but his day was made tougher by being given a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane earlier in the race.
Given the enormous reshuffle, the order at the restart was Verstappen, Perez, Alonso, Gasly, Sainz, Zhou, Magnussen, Albon, Ocon and Tsunoda – only Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in P13 staying in the same positions where they had started the Dutch Grand Prix.
Verstappen bolted for the restart and Albon managed to make his way back up into the top seven, moving past the Haas of Magnussen before Ocon did the same on the Dane a lap later.
And still looking off the pace from his early damage, Leclerc was proving to be a cork in the bottle for those behind, with Hamilton and Piastri both able to dive past the Ferrari driver in the space of three corners – Hamilton getting by into the braking zone at Turn 1 before Piastri threw his McLaren to the inside at Turn 3.
At the front, Verstappen stretched his legs over his team-mate and opened up a gap to which we have become accustomed this season, with the likes of Norris and Hamilton making their way by slower cars to get back into the points.
Leclerc, meanwhile continued to fall back through the field, so much so that Lawson pulled ahead of the Ferrari driver in his AlphaTauri – which was sign enough that Leclerc was unable to continue and prompted his retirement from the race come lap 43, with the Scuderia later confirming floor damage on his car.
Albon was able to hold on until lap 45 before pitting at all, through all the rain, he made a set of soft tyres last beyond half distance and pitted from P5, coming out 11th on mediums as he was still subject to using two mandatory dry tyre sets, considering he did not make the move to inters at any stage.
Alonso was having a sterling race for Aston Martin, but a slow stop on his left front tyre cost him five seconds in his pit box, which had big ramifications on his podium chances as Sainz was able to clear his compatriot heading into the final stint, putting the Ferrari driver in position for a tilt at third place.
Fuelled by frustration as much as anything else, it wasn’t long before Alonso was right on Sainz’s tail, the two-time World Champion setting the fastest lap of the race as he closed up to the Ferrari driver’s DRS range and sending his AMR23 down the inside into Tarzanbocht and reclaiming third on the road.
The racing continued throughout the field, with Albon pulling a move around the outside of the first corner on Russell before Hamilton achieved the same pass on Norris moments later – all with warnings that rain would return before the end of the race.
Russell was soldiering on with used hard tyres and almost sent himself into the gravel after clipping the grass on turn-in to Turn 7 with Hamilton behind, but by lap 61 the rain plummeted again.
A flurry of stops came around as Perez came in for Red Bull, so fast that Red Bull were not ready for him and left an 11-second stop, with Verstappen initially wanting to stay out before race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase overruled him and brought him in.
That brought about yet another change in order, with Gasly able to get himself ahead of Sainz again and Albon being the one to lose out, falling to ninth when the stops shook out, but Esteban Ocon – who had been having something of a quiet afternoon compared to the rest of the field – opted to switch to full wets in anticipation of an even heavier downpour.
He felt that was a poor decision from Alpine, but just as he said that, Perez slid towards the barrier after locking up at Turn 1, which allowed Alonso to cruise through into second place as the rain hauled down as he came back on track.
Zhou Guanyu made the same slide, but he could not get himself slowed down – and as Perez was brought in for full wet tyres, he dropped to sixth and the red flag was thrown, leaving the Red Bull driver stopped at the end of the pit lane.
He will have breathed a sigh of relief, however, when the order was replaced on countback to putting Perez back to third place, given the unfortunate timings surrounding his pit stop.
With around 75 minutes left in the allocated time window for the race for the final seven laps, there was plenty of time left for the action to get going again, and following a half-hour delay, the racing was able to start again with intermediate tyres mandatory, with a rolling start after two laps behind the Safety Car.
There was a change for position lower down the top 10 as Russell got excellent drive on the exit of Turn 3 to pass Norris, but he plummeted out of the points later in the lap, forced to pit with a puncture after making further contact with Norris at Turn 11 as the McLaren driver fought back.
At the front, Alonso was keeping Verstappen honest and Perez was given a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane, leaving him with a job to do to get as far clear of those behind as he could to try and avoid dropping off the podium.
Hamilton was giving his all to get past Sainz too, but it proved to be in vain as the Mercedes driver was forced to settle for sixth, the Spaniard holding on to a place in the top five.
But it was Verstappen who was roared on by the Orange Army to cross the line first at his home race once again, followed by Alonso and Perez on the road, but his penalty took effect and promoted Gasly to his first race podium of the season for Alpine.
Race classification: 2023 Dutch Grand Prix
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull 2:24:04.411 72 laps 6 stops
2 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +3.744 5 stops
3 Pierre GASLY Alpine +7.058 5 stops
4 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +10.068 6 stops
5 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +12.541 5 stops
6 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +13.209 5 stops
7 Lando NORRIS McLaren +13.232 6 stops
8 Alexander ALBON Williams +15.155 4 stops
9 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +16.580 5 stops
10 Esteban OCON Alpine +18.346 6 stops
11 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +20.087 7 stops
12 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +20.840 5 stops
13 Liam LAWSON AlphaTauri +26.147 7 stops
14 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +26.410 6 stops
15 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +27.388 5 stops
16 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +29.893 5 stops
17 George RUSSELL Mercedes +55.754 7 stops
18 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo DNF, crash
19 Charles LECLERC Ferrari DNF, floor damage
20 Logan SARGEANT Williams DNF, crash