Max Verstappen was a “rocket off the start” and that shows Honda has made a “big, big step forward” with its Formula 1 engine in 2021, says Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.
The two title rivals had an evenly-matched launch before Verstappen’s Honda-powered Red Bull edged clear before Turn 1, then shot away on the exit to build a swift lead.
He went on to score victory by rebuffing every effort from Hamilton and Mercedes, notching his seventh win of the season to reclaim the lead of the championship.
Honda’s major redesign of its power unit has been an important factor in the Red Bull/Verstappen challenge and Hamilton said that was evident at Zandvoort, where he said his rivals “were just so fast” and “the quickest they have been all year”.
Hamilton said his start “felt pretty good, but he was a rocket off the start”.
“He was gone,” said Hamilton. “Literally nothing we could do to answer that.
“They’ve made a big, big step forward this year with their engine. You saw it last year, they weren’t the greatest with starts and I think they obviously have improved their power.
“The whole power unit’s massively better this year on all aspects for them – their driveability and their starts. They’re the quickest starters this year overall.
“We’ve got some work to do in lots of different areas.”
Prior to this season Red Bull and Honda put significant effort into identifying the causes of their poor starts, particularly from last year, and improving the launch procedure.
It was already clear earlier this season that this had yielded great reward.
Having eradicated the power unit deficit thanks to Honda’s gains, Red Bull has also moulded its RB16B into a much more potent aerodynamic and mechanical platform – and continued to upgrade it as the season progressed.
Hamilton noted that development has continued of late and “you’ve seen the speed the improvement” had at Zandvoort.
“Even since the first race, these guys have just had such a strong car all year and we’re trying as hard as we can,” he said.
“We had a couple of races where it looked like we were on par with them or just slightly ahead but there’s only been a couple of those and then it took a big leap and it’s been difficult.
“It’s so close that you can’t really overtake in a lot of these places that we’ve been to. We just have to keep our heads down and keep working, keep pushing.
“We are ahead in the team championship which is great but of course we need to pick up some speed to be able to win races in future.”
With the Red Bull, in Verstappen’s hands, enjoying a critical edge over Mercedes there was little Hamilton could do in response at Zandvoort.
That restricted Mercedes’ chance of winning this race and the Verstappen start that impressed Hamilton so much immediately ended its best possibility of doing so.
“The opportunities are the normal ones like getting off the line,” said Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin.
“If that had been better then it at least puts you in the driving seat.
“The problem was we were having to push very hard or Lewis was having to push very hard to close up.
“We certainly seemed a little bit stronger on that medium tyre and we could get that gap down a bit, but I don’t think there was a point where we could have won.
“We could see where he was pushing hard and I think in reality, there wasn’t any big opportunity that we let slip through our fingers.”