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Formula 1

Mark Hughes: Where Zandvoort pacesetter McLaren actually stands

by Mark Hughes
5 min read

Back after the Formula 1 break and the picture looks largely familiar, with one or two exceptions.

There was only one McLaren out there for most of the second Dutch Grand Prix practice session after Oscar Piastri put his in the Turn 3 wall, but that of Lando Norris set the fastest single lap a few hundredths ahead of overwhelming favourite of the Zandvoort crowd and of the bookmakers, Max Verstappen. The long runs revealed the usual Verstappen advantage but McLaren’s strong form since its Austria update continues unabated.

F1 Grand Prix Of The Netherlands Practice

Verstappen felt that the RB19’s balance was not quite there, with a “little too much rallycross” for his taste, but even so the underlying advantage was revealed by the long runs. Sergio Perez – around 0.5s off Verstappen with the car liked this – believes he will close that gap once the set-up has been further refined.

On the long runs, Norris was around 0.4s a lap adrift of Verstappen’s average over a comparable length run on the same soft tyres. He also conducted a shorter run on the medium tyre but this average is flattered by the lower fuel load he will have been carrying by then and by the shortness of the run.

Nonetheless on Friday form the McLaren looks on a similar pace to Mercedes – and with Ferrari and Aston Martin both apparently struggling, a podium is surely a realistic possibility for the papaya cars, even if Piastri has some homework to catch up on following his crash early in FP2. He’d lapped even faster than Norris up to that time.

His accident also triggered Daniel Ricciardo into hitting the barrier front-on in the AlphaTauri and breaking his hand, to be replaced on Saturday by F1 debutant Liam Lawson.

“I think we got in a good rhythm and found a reasonable balance with the car,” said Norris. “We’re looking good on low fuel, but we’ve got a bit of work to do on high fuel, so that’s our target tonight.”

Long-run averages

Soft Medium Hard
Verstappen 1m16.161s (10 laps)
Norris 1m16.250s (4)
Perez 1m16.367s (6)
Norris 1m16.524s (9)
Hamilton 1m16.525s (10)
Russell 1m16.579s (8)
Gasly 1m16.640s (11)
Ocon 1m16.610s (10)
Sainz 1m16.762s (8)
Alonso 1m16.740s (8)
Stroll 1m16.787s (8)
Leclerc 1m16.824s (10)
Albon 1m16.900s (12)

The McLaren was carrying a little less wing than the Mercedes and consequently a little faster through the speed traps (though still significantly slower than the Red Bull). Through the Turn 8 Mastersbocht right-hander it was quicker but the Mercedes appeared to have the edge in the slower corners.

Hamilton was buoyed up by the feel of the Mercedes here, saying, “From the first lap it felt like we had a good starting point to work from.

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“The first practice session was generally good; we made some changes for FP2, and I’m not sure if we progressed or not from them, so we will deep-dive tonight to investigate. Overall, the car is feeling more competitive here, so we want to hold onto that and see if we can extract more for tomorrow.”

On a front-limited circuit the Mercedes was looking a much more convincing car than the Ferrari. Robert Shwartzman found the Carlos Sainz car to be a difficult drive around here in FP1 and certainly it failed to show any form over a single lap or in the long-run stakes, with Charles Leclerc around 0.7s off Verstappen’s average.

There’s probably more to come from power unit settings into Saturday, but the deficit is unusually large. The fact that Leclerc’s times were still improving a long way into his soft-tyred long run suggests its tyres may not have been in the temperature window early in the run.

Fernando Alonso was second only to Verstappen in FP1, using the Aston’s all-new floor. But switching to the old floor in FP2 in order to conduct a back-to-back test (with Lance Stroll this time using the new floor) strongly suggested the new floor is a significant improvement. With the old floor Alonso was generally around half a second off the pace and no match for Mercedes or McLaren. With the new floor back on the car, could we see the Aston’s early-season form return?

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Dutch Grand Prix Practice Day Zandvoort, Netherlands

Other standouts – and with the usual caveats – were that Williams was fast on a single lap but slow over a race run. on Thursday Alex Albon had spoken about how the very wind-sensitive car would be a difficult drive if there was the usual prevailing tailwind into the long Turn 9 right-hander, but that it could be vastly better if that crucial corner had a headwind. Today it had a headwind.

It may have been further flattered in single-lap comparison by fuel loads but its tyre deg on the long runs suggested another typical Albon defensive race could be on the cards.

Practice 2 Results

Pos Name Car Best Time Gap Leader
1 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1m11.33s
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1m11.353s +0.023s
3 Alex Albon Williams-Mercedes 1m11.599s +0.269s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m11.638s +0.308s
5 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT 1m11.72s +0.39s
6 Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault 1m11.766s +0.436s
7 Sergio Pérez Red Bull 1m11.817s +0.487s
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1m11.835s +0.505s
9 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m11.857s +0.527s
10 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes 1m11.863s +0.533s
11 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1m11.915s +0.585s
12 Logan Sargeant Williams-Mercedes 1m11.934s +0.604s
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1m12.001s +0.671s
14 George Russell Mercedes 1m12.009s +0.679s
15 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m12.074s +0.744s
16 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1m12.093s +0.763s
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m12.404s +1.074s
18 Nico Hülkenberg Haas-Ferrari 1m12.693s +1.363s
19 Oscar Piastri McLaren-Mercedes 1m12.901s +1.571s
20 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT 1m13.096s +1.766s
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