Lewis Hamilton will not be instructed to hold back against Max Verstappen on the opening lap of Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix.
Verstappen heads into his home race in Zandvoort holding the advantage after he beat Hamilton to pole position by just 0.038 seconds. Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas lines up third in the other Mercedes.
The stage is now set for a pulsating race with Hamilton and Verstappen sharing the front row for the first time since their opening-lap coming together at the British Grand Prix in July.
Seven weeks might have passed, but the 180mph Silverstone crash will be at the forefront of those watching the 262-metre stampede to the opening right-hander Tarzanbocht bend and the ensuing 13 corners.
With overtaking predicted to be difficult around the twisty 2.65-mile circuit, both Hamilton and Verstappen will recognise the importance of lap one of a scheduled 72 – and the Briton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has no intention of deterring his superstar driver from challenging his Red Bull rival.
“We will not be discussing the strategy for turn one or two,” said Wolff.
“The drivers will speak with their respective engineers about various plays, but we do not need to refer to Lewis how to drive or what is at stake because he knows best.
“The two protagonists will be side-by-side more often this season and we cannot assume that it will end up in an incident.
“They are both among the best. They know every win counts, so they will do it fair-and-square but hard.”
Formula One is back on Dutch soil following a 36-year absence, and Verstappen delighted his 70,000-strong orange army by taking the 10th pole of his career, and sixth in seven rounds.
Hamilton, who heads Verstappen by just three points in the standings, pushed his rival all the way and improved with his final effort before coming up just short.
The world champion was predictably jeered by the hostile crowd.
Former Dutch F1 driver Giedo Van Der Garde conducted the post-qualifying TV interviews in front of the main grandstand.
“Come on, guys, come on,” he said in a bid to calm them down.
Hamilton responded: “I just want to say a big thank you to all the orange fans.
“What an amazing venue and track. I love coming to this country. I really appreciate the welcome.”
Later, the seven-time world champion added: “The response from everyone has been great, even just driving into the circuit, it has been really pleasant so I am grateful for that.
“We have not seen a crowd like this for a while, and I hope the track allows us to provide a good race because it is a difficult circuit to overtake and strategy will be important.”
In a boost to Hamilton, Verstappen will be left exposed in the strategy battle after his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez was eliminated in Q1. The Mexican starts only 16th.
“The fans were going crazy every time I crossed the line so to have pole here is very satisfying,” said Verstappen.
“To see so much orange is incredible. You can hear it now. They are going crazy.”
Seven days ago, George Russell stole the spotlight with a qualifying performance for the ages.
But the Williams driver, who is set to be confirmed as Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate for 2022 next week, was brought back down to earth here after he spun off at the final corner.
The Englishman lost control of his Williams through the long sweeping right-hander, sliding backwards into the gravel and bumping the advertising hoardings.
The session was suspended as Russell limped back to his garage. Following a 10-minute delay, the action resumed, but moments later, the other Williams was in the wall.
Nicholas Latifi carried too much speed on the entrance to the eighth corner, falling off the track and collecting the tyre barrier.
The Canadian was unharmed in the accident but was taken to the medical centre for a precautionary check-up before being given the all-clear.
Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, will miss Sunday’s race after testing positive for Covid-19. Alfa Romeo reserve driver Robert Kubica is filling in for Raikkonen and the Pole, who last raced in 2019, qualified 18th.