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After four weeks with no action, Formula 1 is back! The ten teams and twenty drivers will take on the Zandvoort circuit, one that is vastly different to Spa-Francorchamps, where they last raced. With one day of practice complete, let’s take a look at what we learned from the two one-hour sessions in the Dutch GP practice analysis.
Norris fastest in upgraded McLaren
In a surprising turn of events, Lando Norris was the fastest driver in the second free practice session, 23 thousandths of a second ahead of Max Verstappen. McLaren have brought new parts for the MCL60 at Zandvoort, the first upgrade package since the hugely successful one which was introduced in Austria and propelled the team up the order.
For Oscar Piastri, the session did not unfold well at all, since a crash early on prevented him from running substantially in the second free practice session. This may prove a little costly for the team, as FP2 is ideal for data gathering thanks to it taking place at the same time as qualifying and the race.
The big question is whether the pace shown today by Norris will be sustainable for the all-important sessions on Saturday and Sunday. While Verstappen will be out of reach, McLaren will enter Saturday as the favourites in the fight behind him, against Mercedes and Aston Martin particularly, as its biggest weakness -the lack of top speed- is not expected to be an issue here.
Positive signs from Mercedes and Aston Martin
While McLaren and Norris grabbed the headlines on Friday, two of their challengers quietly showed positive signs in both sessions.
Mercedes showed great speed last year in Zandvoort, in one of their best races amidst a difficult campaign. They have kept that form this year, with Lewis Hamilton completing the two sessions in third and fourth, and with the second fastest race pace. The tight and twisty nature of the circuit also suits the driving style of the seven-time World Champion, so expect him to perform well.
This weekend will be crucial and important for Aston Martin. After a lightning start to the season, the team somewhat lost its way in the four races preceding the summer break and dropped fifty points behind Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. A lack of one-lap speed, as well as race pace, revealed that some new parts introduced in that period were not beneficial.
The British team has brought a substantial upgrade package and the timing could not be better. The layout of Zandvoort should play into the biggest strength of the car, which performed exceptionally well in slow speed corners and had very good traction out of them. Finishing second in FP1 was a good omen for Fernando Alonso, as was a fast race simulation on the hard tyres.
The good news for both teams is that Ferrari seems to be struggling this weekend. In fact, both its drivers failed to make it into the top ten in FP2 and the long-run pace was not very competitive either. As a result, we expect Ferrari not to challenge for the podium.
What about Perez?
A regular theme over the course of the season has been the question of what can be expected from Sergio Perez. While his teammate and home hero, Max Verstappen, is largely expected to dominate the weekend, the goal for Perez has to be a podium finish. Whether that is going to happen remains to be seen.
The Mexican has not fared well in either of his visits to Zandvoort so far. He finished eighth, having started from the pitlane in 2021 and he was only fifth last season. With the circuit providing limited overtaking opportunities, a good qualifying result will be crucial for him, but that is where he is struggling the most so far in 2023.
His practice performances today leave a lot to be desired as well, with fourth and seventh in the two sessions. His race pace was a bit more promising, despite not being on Verstappen’s level. Spa-Francorchamps was the first clean Grand Prix for Perez since May and another one is needed in the Netherlands.
Alpine with good speed
Alpine has had an unremarkable season so far, with a podium finish at Monaco the only result to stand out. The practice sessions today though give a bit of optimism for the French team though, which had some major personnel changes in the weeks leading up to the summer break.
While the practice standings do not reveal a particularly strong performance from either driver, their long-run pace was very competitive. It becomes apparent especially when looking at the race simulation of Esteban Ocon, who was mightly fast on a set of hard tyres and he is setting himself up for more than just a top ten finish.
As he has done on many different occasions this year, Alexander Albon turned heads with his performance today. This time it was a lap that placed him third in the FP2 standings that did the trick. This performance replicated the one at FP2 in Silverstone, where the Thai finished the Grand Prix with an eighth-place finish.
For Williams, expectations were not very high entering the weekend, but this result puts the team on the map and points are not out of the question, although it seems somewhat unlikely. Keeping good race pace is certainly the big task for the team from Grove, which struggled in this aspect last time out, in Belgium.
Williams was not the only team with an impressive performance in FP2 though. Yuki Tsunoda was fifth, but his race pace was not as good. Points will be tough for the Italian team as well, as the top teams will probably be one step ahead. Their hopes will likely rest on Tsunoda’s shoulders for this weekend, as Daniel Ricciardo picked up a hand injury in his FP2 crash.
Alfa Romeo will be in the picture too, just two races after qualifying fifth and seventh in Hungaroring, another circuit with slow speed corners. The same cannot be said for Haas, which most likely will endure a long and tough weekend at the back.
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