Verstappen was just 19th in the first free session for the Dutch GP. He moved up to eighth the next. He was third in the last practice.
And at the time of the decision, as if to show who is in charge of F1 today, he took pole position.
It is the Dutchman’s 17th pole, equaling the mark of a three-time champion, Stewart. It is also his fourth pole of the season and his second at home, to the delight of the fans who, once again, have transformed the stands into a huge and lively orange sea.
Leclerc starts in second. The second row of the grid for the 15th round of the World Championship will have Sainz and Hamilton.
The qualifying session took place on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the seaside town of Zandvoort, with 27°C in the air and 39°C on the asphalt.
All eyes were on that blue car, number 1 on the nose, wearing that white, blue, red helmet and, of course, with shades of orange _the design used by his father, Jos.
There was, however minimal, some mistrust in the air. After the show at Spa last week, Verstappen and Red Bull had yet to show the dominance that has become routine.
The feeling started to evaporate in Q1.
Verstappen was the fastest in the first block of the classification, with the best time of the weekend so far: 1min11s317.
Hamilton was 0s014, followed by Tsunoda, Leclerc and Norris.
Bottas, Ricciardo (!!!), Magnussen, Vettel and Latifi were cut.
Q2 started with problems: an orange smoke flare was thrown onto the track, forcing a red flag. Worse for Albon, who had new tires on the track.
In the resumption, Verstappen once again squandered speed: he became the first driver to close a lap under 1min11s. He nailed 1min10s927 and returned to the pits, calm.
Sainz and Russell even overcame him in the end, but nothing to scare him. Closing the top 10, Leclerc, Hamilton, Norris, Pérez, Stroll, Schumacher and Tsunoda.
Gasly, Ocon, Alonso, Zhou and Albon danced.
Q3 came. And the contest was good.
Verstappen took to the track and clocked 1min10s515. Leclerc accelerated hard and was even better: 1min10s456.
Everyone went to the pits, changed tires. On the way back to the track, the Dutchman flew and clocked 1min10s363. Pole!
Leclerc’s chances, if any, went into space with a thump from Pérez at the close of his lap. “It was very close. Max did a wonderful job. Our car was improving, let’s see what happens tomorrow”, said the Monegasque.
“Unbelievable! Especially after yesterday’s problems. It was a very pleasant day in the car”, declared Verstappen, in front of a crowd that reacted to his every sentence as if it were a goal.
The forecast for Sunday is a rout.