F1, Dutch Grand Prix: Charles Leclerc and Ferrari Gatecrash Max Verstappen’s ‘Orange Army’


Charles Leclerc topped the times ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz as Ferrari spoiled the party in second practice for a huge crowd of local fans at the Dutch Grand Prix on Friday.

Expecting to celebrate the homecoming of Max Verstappen for the first time since he won the world championship last year, the fans were treated to a Ferrari revival ahead of third-placed Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes.

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Red Bull’s runaway leader of this year’s title race was down in eighth after a troubled day that saw him pull up with a gearbox failure in opening practice topped by the two Mercedes.

Lando Norris was fourth for McLaren ahead of George Russell in the second Mercedes, who was fastest in the first session, Lance Stroll of Aston Martin and Alpine’s two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.

Esteban Ocon was ninth in the second Alpine and Daniel Ricciardo 10th in the second McLaren.

The session began in near-perfect mild conditions under a cloudless sky with Stroll leading the pack out of the pitlane in his Aston Martin.

Verstappen, who had missed much of the opening practice following a gearbox failure, was soon on the pace and on top of the times on soft tyres in 1:13.456.

Sainz trimmed that to take over after 15 minutes with Leclerc slotting in behind him in second before the Spaniard trimmed his time to 1:12.349 to move a full second clear.

Verstappen, Russell and Hamilton all improved, but took second place until Leclerc clocked 1:12.345 to pip his team-mate as Ferrari went one-two ahead of Hamilton.

This was hardly what the sell-out crowd of 105,000 fans, most from the local ‘orange army’ had wanted and their frustration remained as Verstappen was back in the pits again.

Much attention in the paddock was being paid to the ruling of the FIA Contracts Recogntiion Board (CRB) hearing on the future of Australian driver Oscar Piastri in favour of McLaren.

McLaren confirmed he would succeed Daniel Ricciardo and race as team-mate to Lando Norris for 2023 and 2034.

Alpine announced that they considered “the matter closed on our side” and were focussed on the Dutch GP, intending to confirm their 2023 line-up in due course.

As these paddock discussions continued, Ricciardo was pitted by an oil leak on his McLaren and Yuki Tsunoda spun off and beached his Alpha Tauri in a gravel trap, leading to a red flag, which halted the action for nine minutes.

This late stoppage spoilt the high fuel load runs of the teams and left only four minutes’ action before the session ended.

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