Driven by the rising profile of Max Verstappen, who would a few months later become the first Dutchman to win the world title, Formula 1 made a long-awaited return to Zandvoort in 2021. Like its name suggests, the track has a unique location amid the sand dunes on the North Sea coast, and its sweeping and undulating nature made it popular with drivers from its very first world championship appearance back in 1952 until it dropped off the calendar after 1985.
By that point the facilities were no longer fit for modern F1, the operator went out of business and a few years later the track was shortened to move it away from nearby houses. This not only further reduced the space within the circuit to expand the facilities, but also made the layout more twisting and technical; so less naturally suited to F1. It therefore seemed unlikely that F1 would ever get back to Zandvoort, until Max mania arrived.
Dutch crowds are known for bringing a party atmosphere to any sporting venue, whether that’s in a football stadium or on a hairpin bend on the Tour de France. Plans were soon hatched to ensure the locals could cheer for Verstappen on home soil in a similar fashion and make Zandvoort F1-ready once more. Last year, the Dutch dream finally became a reality – crowned by a popular Verstappen victory. This is a race like no other.
Some out-of-the-box thinking was needed to make the old-school track layout fit for F1 once more. The issues were two-fold: a lack of space to build vast run-off areas on the outside of corners, and the shortage of overtaking opportunities created by a lack of long straights.
The solution? Banking of 18 degrees around two of the most important and famous corners. Turn 3, named after former circuit director John Hugenholtz, is a tight hairpin backing onto the pit straight and the banking here encourages drivers to take different lines onto the sequence of fast bends that follows. The final corner – fittingly named in tribute to double Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk – is similarly steep, with the intention of allowing cars to follow each other (or even race side-by-side) onto the main straight.
The first corner, Tarzan, features a lesser degree of banking and still has a gravel trap on the outside to catch anybody who steps out of line. This is typical of the rest of the circuit, which remains largely how many of the drivers will have experienced it in their Formula 3 days: Fast, flowing and narrow with little margin for error. A real rollercoaster ride by the seaside. This year, with a new car and tyre package that is engineered to favour overtaking, the action should be more spectacular than ever.
Whether it’s kitesurfing, paragliding, land yachting, dune-running or windsurfing, you can certainly do all of that in Zandvoort: the circuit is located next to a wide sandy beach, some of which occasionally finds its way onto the track surface, making the surface slippery.
There are gusting winds as well that can affect aerodynamic balance – but nobody comes to Zandvoort just to drink in the sea air and hone their water sports techniques.
Instead, part of the key appeal is the proximity of the track to Amsterdam: only half an hour away by train or car. Once you get to Amsterdam, everything is possible: suffice it to say that there’s entertainment to be had of every genre – from the cultural to the less cultural. Yet you don’t need to go all the way to Amsterdam to find a good time. The Dutch Grand Prix is a sea of orange characterised by its fans, whose enthusiastic support is enough to make the ground shake. They take over the small seaside town of Zandvoort, which for one weekend every year becomes a full-on festival that needs to be seen to be believed. The restaurants, bars, beer tents and campsites are packed to capacity wherever you look. Go there to soak up the unique atmosphere. Especially if you’re a Max Verstappen fan.
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