This photograph taken on August 23, 2023 shows The Circuit Zandvoort in Zandvoort, ahead of the Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix. Photo: AFP
AFP Sport looks at five things ahead of the 13th race of a season dominated by Max Verstappen and Red Bull:
Vettel's record in jeopardy
Max Verstappen has a significant milestone in his sights on his home patch. A ninth consecutive win will draw the 25-year-old double world champion level with Sebastian Vettel's record set in 2013, also in a Red Bull.
In a different stratosphere to his grid rivals the Dutchman is enjoying a dreamy sweet spot where his flawless touch at the wheel of an unstoppable car has left him seemingly nailed on for a third straight title.
At Spa-Francorchamps before the mid-season break, despite starting from sixth on the grid, he was so comfortably ahead of the pack he took to playful banter with his engineer on the team radio.
He leads teammate Sergio Perez by 125 points and could feasibly wrap up the championship as early as Qatar in October, with five races remaining.
Verstappen has won both times at Zandvoort since its return to the calendar after a near four-decade absence in 2021 - boosted by a sea of orange-clad fans at his home circuit featuring banked corners and high-speed sections undulating through the dunes north of Amsterdam.
'Golden' Red Bull
The 2023 season may be turning into a bit of a relentless grind for the non-partisan fan, but unsurprisingly that view is not shared at Red Bull.
With the Austrian outfit poised to extend their own record to 13 consecutive wins this season and 14 in all boss Christian Horner describes their season so far as "phenomenal". "I think it's beyond everybody's wildest imagination to be sitting in this position now" he said this month.
"You don't achieve these kind of results by accident. It's a golden moment for our team." That's borne out by a glance at the constructors' standings, with Red Bull a massive 256 points clear of their nearest rivals, Mercedes.
Mercedes approach the second half of the season "recharged" says boss Toto Wolff after a challenging campaign so far, the high point coming when Lewis Hamilton and George Russell made the podium behind Verstappen in Spain in a heavily revamped car.
"It's good to get back to work," Wolff said last week. "The summer break is important for everyone to take some well-deserved time off, but we're racers and we love the thrill of competition. We return recharged. There is plenty to fight for and we won't be letting up." He revealed attention has already turned to 2024. "Now it's really focusing on what we need to do in order to be winning championships again. There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel. The sails are set for 2024."
The chasing pack
Unlikely as it is, if Verstappen comes unstuck in the Dutch dunes, which teams aside from Mercedes are best placed to capitalise?
Ferrari have shown flashes of pace but qualifying king Charles Leclerc's second in Austria is their best finish, and with title aspirations long gone they are now in a battle for best of the rest with Mercedes, Aston Martin and McLaren.
Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin's outstanding early season form has tailed off since Austria but they are optimistic of making waves again in the season run-in.
McLaren have made an eye-catching turnaround after a sluggish start, their redesigned car looking the real deal. Lando Norris secured back-to-back runner-up spots at Silverstone and Hungary and rookie Oscar Piastri took a fine second in the sprint at Spa to give them plenty of hope for the next 10 races.
Pierre Gasly's sprint third place at Spa was a much-needed pick-me-up for the beleaguered Alpine-Renault outfit.
Two successive double DNFs in Britain and Hungary preceded a shock management clear-out on the eve of Spa, with team chief Otmar Szafnauer and long-serving sporting director Alan Permane leaving, and chief technical officer Pat Fry moving to Williams.
Not ideal circumstances for Gasly and his French compatriot Esteban Ocon, especially after the previous high level exits from the Enstone-based team of four-time world champion Alain Prost and two-time champion Alonso to Aston.
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