ZANDVOORT, Netherlands: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen edged out championship leader Lewis Hamilton to claim pole position at his home Dutch Grand Prix on Saturday, his sixth prime grid spot out of the last seven races sparking jubilation in the near capacity crowd.
Roared on by a sea of orange the Belgian-born Dutch driver who trails Hamilton by three points in the title race, succeeds Nelson Piquet, who topped Saturday qualifying in 1985, the last time Formula One visited the iconic Zandvoort circuit nestling in the dunes on the coast west of Amsterdam.
Verstappen was just 0.038 seconds quicker than Hamilton, whose Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas lines up on the second row alongside Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri.
The two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, who had both been so impressive in practice on Friday, hold down the third row.
Verstappen, who earlier in the day escaped a grid penalty over an on-track incident on Friday, clocked a quickest lap of 1:08.885.
“It’s an amazing feeling to get pole position here,” he said.
“The crowd is incredible, the car is really nice to drive and this track as well — it’s really cool.
“It’s the best starting position, as passing will be difficult. Today was good, so I hope we can finish it off tomorrow.”
One black cloud on an otherwise sunny day for Red Bull was the premature exit after Q1 of Sergio Perez in their second car, making the task of holding off the Mercedes a little trickier.
Despite enthusiastic booing from the partisan crowd Hamilton paid generous tribute to Verstappen’s loyal followers.
“I want to say a big thank you to all the orange fans here, the Dutch fans. What an amazing venue and track. I really love coming to this country.
“Max did an amazing lap and I was so close to catching him. With yesterday’s session missed, it made it difficult, but I did my best.”
The seven-time champion who is going for another crack at his 100th career win added: “We haven’t seen a crowd like this in a while. It is great to see so many people here and I hope we can put on a great race. It is a very tough circuit, which is what makes it so fantastic to drive.”
After last week’s rain-ruined farce of a non-race in Belgium with Verstappen awarded half points after a couple of laps behind a safety car, F1 organizers could not have dreamed of a better pick-me-up than this weekend on the North Sea coast.
Sunday’s grid will be missing Kimi Raikkonen after Alfa Romeo’s retiring Finn tested positive for COVID-19.
The 2007 world champion, 41, was replaced in Zandvoort by Alfa Romeo’s reserve driver Robert Kubica.
“Kimi is displaying no symptoms and is in good spirits. He has immediately entered isolation in his hotel. The team wishes Kimi a speedy recovery,” the Alfa Romeo team tweeted.
“The team ran a thorough close contacts check and do not expect any further impact to our operations for the rest of the weekend.”
Polish driver Kubica, 36, won the Canadian Grand Prix in 2008 but his career was severely hampered following a crash during the Andorra Rally in 2011 in which his right forearm was partially severed.
“Robert has been reserve driver... since the start of the 2020 season and has driven the team’s C41 in three practice sessions this year,” Alfa Romeo said.
“With 97 Formula One starts to his name and experience with 2021 Formula One machinery, he will be ready for action and to give his best for the team.”
With Raikkonen needing a negative test before being allowed to return to the paddock, his participation in next weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza is also in doubt.
Williams team manager Jost Capito will not return to the paddock this weekend, however, after having dinner with Raikkonen on Friday evening.
Out on the track Williams’ George Russell couldn’t match his sensational front row qualifying time last weekend as he crashed in Q2 and will start the 13th leg of the season in 11th place.