ZANDVOORT, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch driver Max Verstappen took a brilliant pole position for the Netherlands Grand Prix and sent his Orange Army of fans into raptures on Saturday.
Then a DJ pumped out loud dance music as they savored Verstappen’s performance and lapped up the seaside sunshine. They came to see him in top form and he delivered.
The Red Bull driver's final lap was just good enough to beat Mercedes superstar Lewis Hamilton by .04 seconds and his teammate Valtteri Bottas by .034.
Verstappen's orange-clad fans stood and roared when he went past the main grandstand area and sealed his season-leading seventh pole — four more than Formula One record holder Hamilton.
“Unbelievable, we were just flying today,” Verstappen said. “It's an amazing feeling to get pole position here. The crowd is incredible."
Verstappen led Bottas by .3 seconds and Hamilton by .35 after their first runs. They all improved in their second stints and Verstappen did enough for his 10th career pole and sixth in the past seven races.
Hamilton missed out on a record-extending 102nd career pole but leads Verstappen by three points in the standings as he aims for a record-extending 100th F1 win on Sunday.
“It’s a difficult circuit to overtake," Hamilton said. "Strategy will come into it.”
Hamilton was thrilled by the speedy 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) Zandvoort with its high-banking corners.
“What a place for us to be racing," Hamilton said. "It's a great track, I like the old school circuits better. This one's been phenomenal to drive."
Having jeered Hamilton at the previous three races after he sent Verstappen crashing out of the British GP with a risky overtaking move, the Dutch fans seemed to finally have gotten over it and clapped him after he spoke.
“First, I want to say a big thank you to all the orange fans, the Dutch fans, what an amazing venue, what an amazing track,” Hamilton said. “Max did an amazing lap. I was so close. Hopefully, the track provides a great race.”
Although the narrow design of the circuit makes it difficult to overtake, several high-speed corners give Hamilton chances to pass Verstappen if he can get close enough.
“It’s not going to be a straightforward race," said Verstappen, who is eyeing a seventh win of the season and 17th overall. He leads Hamilton 6-4 in wins so far.
In the first part of qualifying, known as Q1, Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. were 1-2 with Verstappen third. His Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez and Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel, the four-time F1 champion, were among the five drivers eliminated after being stuck behind slower cars.
Verstappen's legions of fans cheered again when he finished top of Q2 ahead of Leclerc.
“They were going crazy when I was crossing the line,” Verstappen said. “To see so much orange is incredible.”
A red flag came out a few minutes before the end of that session when Williams driver George Russell — who is touted to drive for Mercedes next year — slid backward off the track and into some gravel.
“I just pushed it too hard in the last corner,” Russell told his team on radio. “Sorry about that.”
Moments after Q2 restarted, another red flag came out when Williams driver Nicholas Latifi lost control and slammed into the tire wall.
Earlier, Verstappen had the fastest time in the third and final practice ahead of Bottas and Hamilton.
Ferrari repaired Sainz Jr.'s car just in time for qualifying after he slid sideways off track on the high-speed Turn 3 and into the crash barriers about 20 minutes into the session.
P3 saw McLaren driver Lando Norris and Haas driver Mick Schumacher go into the gravel, while Leclerc took evasive action late on when he swerved sharply left to avoid two cars.
The race has returned to Zandvoort and the Netherlands for the first time since 1985. About 65,000 fans packed into stands that were at 67% capacity because of coronavirus restrictions. All had to show a corona pass to get in.
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