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Verstappen tops final Dutch GP practice as Sainz crashes
Red Bull's Max Verstappen during practice. --Reuters
Red Bull's Max Verstappen during practice. --Reuters

ZANDVOORT, Netherlands: Max Verstappen gave his home fans what they wanted with a stunningly quick lap in final practice for the Dutch Formula One Grand Prix on Saturday, as Ferrari's Carlos Sainz crashed and brought out the red flags.


Verstappen had the 70,000-strong crowd, most of them wearing orange or Red Bull shirts, roaring as he went top of the timing screens with a best time of one minute 09.623 seconds ahead of qualifying at Zandvoort.


Valtteri Bottas led team mate Lewis Hamilton as Mercedes filled second and third places respectively, 0.556 and 0.794 seconds slower.


"Max is in unbelievable form," commented 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg for Sky Sports television.


"That lap was just spectacular. He has so much confidence, he is flying out there. If everything goes normal, it's going to be difficult to catch him in qualifying today."


The fans had earlier breathed a sigh of relief as stewards ruled out a possible grid penalty for the Red Bull driver who had been summoned for overtaking just as red flags were signalled on Friday.


Red Bull's Mexican Sergio Perez was fourth fastest, with the battle again shaping up to be between the two title-chasing teams.


Hamilton leads Verstappen by three points ahead of Sunday's 13th race of the season, with the Dutch 23-year-old poised to retake the lead from the seven times world champion in the first Dutch Grand Prix for 36 years.


Sainz brought out the day's first red flags, after two interrupted sessions on Friday, when he lost the rear of the Ferrari and slammed sideways into the barriers at Hugenholtz, the third corner.


"Sorry guys. I don't know what happened," he said.


The Ferrari was craned off the track, leaving Sainz's mechanics with a race of their own to get the damaged car ready for qualifying.


Poland's Robert Kubica made an unexpected return to the track as a stand-in for Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo after the Finn tested positive for COVID-19.


Kubica, who last raced at the end of the 2019 season, was 19th of the 20 drivers with Italian team mate Antonio Giovinazzi 15th. -- Reuters


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