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Verstappen expecting ‘crazy’ festival at first home race as champion

Max Verstappen is expecting an emotional and “pretty crazy” festival as he heads into his first home race as world champion, seeking his 10th win of the season, at this weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix.

Buoyant after a run of spectacular triumphs including a masterclass for Red Bull at last Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, the runaway leader of the title race warned the clamour of a capacity crowd could be distracting as he faces a much tougher contest.

“It will be harder for us to be as dominant and I expect Ferrari to be strong,” said the 24-year-old Dutchman. “There’s a lot more downforce required at Zandvoort.

“Of course, I want a good result, but it’s important to score points, always, so let’s hope we can do a good job. My family will be there to support me, and I will enjoy the weekend with the fans.

“It’s going to be pretty crazy.”

Verstappen will pay tribute to his father Jos, a former F1 driver who guided his son through his early career, with a new helmet design.

“I thought it would be a good time to show appreciation of my dad’s efforts made for me when I was a little kid to bring me to where I am today,” he said.

“It’s a bit emotional, but I think it’s just special too because it shows how I started in karting -– and the old pictures of me in go-karts are with this design. I hope a lot ‘Dutchies’ and my dad’s fans appreciate this.”

Verstappen will be seeking to repeat his stirring win last year, when the Dutch event returned after a 36-year absence, to increase his 93-point lead ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez in the championship and 98-point advantage on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

The Monegasque was left crushed by last Sunday’s result, but Ferrari believe Red Bull were heavily favoured by the nature of the circuit and can bounce back this week ahead of their own home race at Monza a week later.

“Zandvoort should be a lot better for us,” said Carlos Sainz, who was third in Belgium behind the two Red Bulls.

“Monza should be advantageous to Red Bull, but we will try to win this one.”

Hamilton ‘fired up’

Mercedes will also seek to recover from a disappointing weekend that saw seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton retire on the opening lap for the first time since 2016 after colliding with Fernando Alonso’s Alpine.

“We’re working to understand our struggles and then to utilise those learnings,” said team boss Toto Wolff, who last Sunday labelled the team’s efforts as “unacceptable”.

“It was a challenging weekend for us as a team, but those weekends are the ones that really fire you up and make you dig deeper. There were such big extremes across the weekend –- from the pace differences on Saturday and Sunday to Lewis’s first lap and then George’s late bid for a podium.”

Mercedes’ history and depth of talent suggests that they should mount a more serious challenge with Ferrari, similarly stung by last Sunday’s Spa result, also set to give Red Bull a much closer challenge.

For Verstappen, it may require patience and a cool head as he bids for a fourth straight win and the 30th of his career en route to his second title. A pragmatic approach may be needed before any party begins in the Zandvoort sand dunes.

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