Fans of Formula One will be hoping that Sunday’s Netherlands Grand Prix is a spectacular rather than a forgettable event.
The rain-soaked Belgian Grand Prix was called off last weekend shortly after the race resumed under a safety car for a few sluggish circuits, more than three hours later than anticipated.
Many hopeful fans had waited drenched to the bone in gridlock for hours trying to get into and out of Spa-Francorchamps.
All they witnessed was a brief 10 minutes of cars crawling behind a safety car before coming to a halt on Lap 4 as track water splashed their helmets. Even though Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had completed two laps, F1 regulations awarded him the victory, while seven-time F1 winner Lewis Hamilton finished third. The incident was dubbed a “farce” by the Mercedes driver.
F1 and its governing body, the FIA, have been widely chastised, but they have promised to investigate what happened and look at possibilities for fans who purchased tickets.
“The FIA, in collaboration with Formula One and the teams, will carefully study the regulations to see what can be learned and improved for the future,” said FIA president Jean Todt this week.
Only half points were awarded to the winner in the botched race, giving Max Verstappen 12.5 points for his sixth victory of the season and the least memorable of his 16 career triumphs.
“It’s not how you expect to win a race,” Verstappen said, “but the points are still crucial and we have to take advantage of every chance.”
“This weekend, I’m hoping we can put on a nice show for everyone in the grandstands.”
With the victory at Spa, Hamilton’s overall advantage has shrunk to three points heading into the Dutch Grand Prix, where he is aiming for a record-extending 100th victory and at Verstappen’s home circuit.
The hilly 4.3-kilometre (2.7-mile) course is located just west of Amsterdam in the coastal resort town of Zandvoort. It is fast-flowing, rising and dropping over dunes, with banked bends of up to 18 degrees, providing lots of opportunities for overtaking.
The first race was held at Zandvoort in 1952, and the last was held in 1985. It was supposed to return last year, but owing to the coronavirus epidemic, it was cancelled.
Alberto Ascari led a 1-2-3 finish for Ferrari in 1952, and the team hasn’t won an F1 race since Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore Grand Prix two years ago.
The 1985 event included a dunes duel between world champions. Nelson Piquet, a three-time Formula One winner, was on pole, while Alain Prost, a four-time champion, had the best lap. The late Niki Lauda triumphed against Prost and the late Ayrton Senna, both three-time world champions.
On Sunday, there will be four world champions on the grid. Vettel, Fernando Alonso, and Kimi Raikkonen will compete with Hamilton. They have a total of seven championships, although none of them come close to challenging Hamilton.
Verstappen is unquestionably the best driver in the world, and a seventh victory of the season would put him back in the driver’s championship battle.
It would be especially painful to do so in front of his army of dedicated supporters, whom Verstappen refers to as his “Orange Army” and who follow him in large numbers.
“It will be amazing to compete in front of my home fans in the Netherlands,” added Verstappen, who last raced here in F3 seven years ago. “It’s also a nice challenge for a driver to go to a new circuit and find the limit. Because the qualifying laps will be so fast, any errors would be extremely expensive.”
Even for someone as seasoned as Hamilton, Saturday’s qualifying may seem stressful, with tens of thousands of fans cheering for Verstappen. The 36-year-old British driver holds the F1 pole position record with 101, although he leads Verstappen 6-3 in this season and 6-4 in victories.
Since losing to then-Mercedes colleague Nico Rosberg in 2016, Hamilton has been pushed harder than he has ever been.
Verstappen now aims to steal Hamilton’s F1 title and prevent him from becoming the first driver in F1 history to win eight championships.