Max Verstappen refuses to loosen his grip on the 2022 Formula 1 season after the Red Bull driver snatched his fourth pole position of the season at the Dutch Grand Prix.
The reigning world champion sent his orange army at Zandvoort home happy by edging out Charles Leclerc for pole by 0.021 seconds and is 2/5 to claim his tenth win of the season at his home grand prix.
The 24-year-old completed a lights-to-flag victory at the Dutch Grand Prix last year and, with overtaking notoriously difficult at Circuit Zandvoort, the signs are ominous for the rest of the grid.
|What:||Dutch Grand Prix|
|When:||Sunday 4th September|
|How to watch:||Sky Sports Main Event & F1|
|Odds (race win):|
Max Verstappen 2/5, Charles Leclerc 7/2, Lewis Hamilton 17/2, Carlos Sainz 12/1, George Russell 25/1, Sergio Perez 33/1
Verstappen has really upped his game since the summer break, cruising to victory in Belgium a week ago with the most dominant drive of the season as he made light work of starting from 14th on the grid to take the chequered flag in Spa.
Although matching that level of superiority in the Netherlands was always going to be unlikely, a raging Red Bull was expected to keep the rest of the grid at arms’ length.
That hasn’t proven to be the case with Red Bull enduring a torrid couple of practice sessions on Friday, and while they were some improvements made for Q3, Verstappen still found himself behind Mercedes’ George Russell and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari on the timesheets.
But as has often been the case this year, in the big moments, Verstappen came good, producing a blistering lap to deny Leclerc pole position by the smallest margin of the season so far.
A spin by Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez at the end of the session denied the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell the chance to better Verstappen’s lap but it would have taken a monumental effort to deny a driver right at the top of his game.
Given Verstappen's current form and the lack of overtaking opportunities at Zandvoort, Ferrari have their work cut out when it comes to stopping the home hero.
Leclerc looked despondent at the end of qualifying, which had been his strong suit this year, after coming off second best to Verstappen once more.
The Monegasque driver will start alongside Verstappen, who leads the Ferrari ace by 98 points in the drivers' championship, from the front row of the grid with Carlos Sainz in third, giving the Scuderia the chance to put some pressure on Red Bull.
The Italians were the quickest team on the track in race simulations in practice and have a slight edge over Red Bull on the straights too, and Leclerc is not without hope at 7/2.
However, while Leclerc was upbeat on his chances of bettering Verstappen post-qualifying, Ferrari's race record this season means it's not easy to trust them to build on a promising position.
Rather than fight for first, Ferrari's history this season suggests they are most likely to engage in a battle for the podium place with Mercedes behind them.
Lewis Hamilton will start fourth with George Russell sixth, behind Perez, and the Silver Arrows have been vocal about being in a "sweeter spot" for the Dutch Grand Prix after a torrid time in Belgium.
Qualifying has been Mercedes’ Achilles heel all year but team boss Toto Wolff was adamant Lewis Hamilton was up on Verstappen and Leclerc on his final run before Perez's spin.
Belgium appears to have been a one-off for a Mercedes team that’s been making steady improvements all year, drawing them closer to the top two, and the pace of the W13 in race simulations at Zandvoort suggests they'll be in the top three mix.
Lando Norris finished best of the rest behind the usual top sixth by qualifying in seventh and he could prove a nuisance to those ahead of him on race day.
The Brit, who celebrates four years since being handed a drive at McLaren this weekend, has a good record at Zandvoort, recording a couple of wins in F3 and taking tenth last term.
He overcame a difficult start to qualifying as McLaren struggled to gain grip, unlike his team mate Daniel Ricciardio, who went out in Q1, heaping further misery on the Australian on the weekend it was confirmed he’d lost his seat to Oscar Piastri.
It was a similar story at Aston Martin with Lance Stroll producing a strong qualifying showing to snatch tenth, while his more experienced team mate Sebastian Vettel will start from 19th after going off on his flying lap.
The Aston Martin has looked quick in the Netherlands and Stroll was left disappointed he was forced to sit out Q3 due to a technical issue with Yuki Tsonda and Mick Schumacher taking advantage to qualify ahead of him.
Stroll has given himself a shot at recording his best finish of the season though and it should be a good battle with the two drivers ahead of him and both Alpines, who found qualifying tough but have shown decent race pace.