Max Verstappen began his home Dutch Grand Prix weekend in familiar fashion, topping the times in Friday’s first practice at Zandvoort.
The Red Bull double world champion and runaway series leader is on a quest to draw level with Sebastian Vettel’s record of nine straight wins and he was fastest by almost three hundredths of a second from Fernando Alonso’s upgraded Aston Martin.
The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton came next as a trio of champions dominated at the tricky, twisty circuit carved out of coastal dunes near Amsterdam.
The old-school track punishes the slightest error and caught out Nico Hulkenberg, 24 hours after the German had signed a new deal to keep him at Haas in 2024.
His accident triggered the first red flag of the weekend as Formula One returned after its summer break for this 13th round of a championship utterly dominated by Red Bull and Verstappen.
Kevin Magnussen, also celebrating a contract extension with Haas for next season, was first to set a time.
But the Dane was soon bettered by Verstappen, the home hero reeling off a series of quickest laps.
The last one to venture out on the track was Lance Stroll, who missed Thursday’s media day with an infection.
But his spin didn’t last long with his Aston Martin engineer telling him to “abort, box” on the team radio – his session over before it had even begun.
“I heard a funny noise,” came back the down-to-earth reply from the Canadian in the cockpit.
Stroll’s teammate and elder, Spanish veteran Alonso, found himself in the gravel after a minor lock up.
At the midway stage of the hour-long session American rookie Logan Sargeant lifted his Williams to the top of the timesheets briefly.
His more-experienced teammate, Alex Albon, then put in a smart lap to go only eight thousands of a second behind new leader Sergio Perez, both having switched to soft tyres.
Perez needs a strong second half to the season after struggling to keep up with his runaway Red Bull teammate.
McLaren approach the second half of the season full of optimism after upgrades lifted Lando Norris to back-to-back runners-up spots at Silverstone and Hungary and rookie Oscar Piastri to a fine second in the sprint at Spa last time out.
Norris though spent a lot of this return from holiday in the pits.
The yellow and then red flag came out with 18 minutes left on the clock when Hulkenberg crashed on the penultimate turn 13.
The German came to a stop facing the wrong way, his car craned away.
Haas boss Gunther Steiner reported: “It looks like the front wing was damaged, and it was the new front wing and we don’t have many of them.
“We’ve got another one, but only one so we need to decide if we risk it and put it on, or save it for tomorrow.”
Action resumed with 10 minutes left for teams to try out different strategies ahead of second practice and Saturday’s qualifying.
Verstappen took command again, Alonso nipping in to second past Hamilton after a session which left Verstappen’s legion of fans expectant that he can win for the third straight time at home on Sunday.
Perez ended up fourth ahead of Albon, Norris, Sargeant, Piastri, with Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri) and Esteban Ocon (Alpine) rounding out the top 10.
Ferrari reserve driver Robert Shwartzman replaced Carlos Sainz for the first practice staged in muggy overcast conditions, posting the slowest time.
World Cup News
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Tuesday blasted as “insufficient” the apology given by...
Spain’s Women’s World Cup hero Olga Carmona paid tribute to her father on Monday...
Spain midfielder Jenni Hermoso defended Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales after he came...
Sunday’s World Cup final between England and Spain is the final act of a...