HAMILTON WALKS INTO THE LIONS DEN

By Michael Lamonato

Max Verstappen will count the crowd on his side when he takes on Lewis Hamilton at his home Dutch Grand Prix, but the title leader is hoping to disappoint the home side by hitting the ground running.

Just three points split Verstappen from Hamilton, and the smallest differences could prove meaningful when this tight championship is tallied in December.

The Orange Army will be hoping to play their role. At home for the first time in 36 years, the electrically partisan atmosphere has Hamilton anticipating a frosty reception.

“[Booing] is naturally something you potentially expect,” he said. “I have never been someone who would go to an event and boo, but I understand it.”

“For me, I try to turn that energy they propel towards me and use it as a positive and try to put it into driving.”

Verstappen, looking forward to racing in the Netherlands for the first time in his F1 career, said it wasn’t his job to quell the crowd.

“I don’t think it’s up to me,” he said. “At the end of the day I’m not them, and I have to just focus on what I’m doing on the track.”

“I just hope that they will have a good weekend.”

Who’s set to have the better weekend is unclear at the all-new Zandvoort. High speed, undulating and at some turns blind, the weekend will come down to whoever makes the most progress through the three hours of practice before the all-important qualifying.

All teams will have done their homework long before arriving in the Netherlands, but Verstappen admitted to F1 TV he hasn’t sampled the circuit in Red Bull Racing’s sophisticated simulator.

“It’s a bit of a question mark, but I think we have enough time to work on the car,” he said.

On the preparation front Mercedes thinks it could have an advantage. Already it has generated several terabytes of set-up modelling and data and has logged hundreds of driver simulator laps before a wheel is turned in real life.

“Our technical partners play a big role in this stage of the process, from HPE providing data centre infrastructure and hardware to Pure Storage’s storage solutions and TIBCO’s visualisation and reporting tools,” the team said.

“This work is all designed to prepare us the best we can to the track running on Friday.”

But simulation is just that, and only the stopwatch can write the next chapter in the championship.

MY RACE TIPS

Qualifying is going to be everything this weekend, with overtaking tough around the narrow track lined by punishing gravel, but picking pole is devilishly difficult. Flip a coin: Lewis Hamilton for pole and victory, and 70,000 disappointed Dutchies.

Pole position: Lewis Hamilton

Race podium: Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez