Max Verstappen will finally get the opportunity to race in front of his adoring Dutch fans this weekend at Circuit Zandvoort as Formula 1 returns to The Netherlands for the first time since 1985.
The race was initially planned to return to the calendar in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic ended the chance of fans being in attendance, and as a result the event was cancelled, much to the dismay of Verstappen and his loyal ‘Orange Army’ of fans.
The Red Bull Racing driver is expecting Qualifying to be an extremely important part of the Dutch Grand Prix weekend as overtaking is expected to be tricky around Zandvoort, but Verstappen is excited to be racing in front of his home fans in his home country for the first time in Formula 1.
“I’m really looking forward to the race at Zandvoort,” said Verstappen. “It will be special to have a race in the Netherlands in front of my home crowd but also as a driver it’s a good challenge to go to a new circuit and find the limit in an F1 car.
“It was amazing to see so many fans supporting us in Austria and Belgium and I hope we can put on a good show for everyone in the grandstands this weekend. As for the track, it might be a little hard to overtake on but for single lap performance I think it’s going to be rewarding.
“The qualifying laps will be very quick there so any mistakes will be really costly. After the race was cancelled last year, this year will be even more special and of course it would be amazing to win on another home circuit in front of the Orange Army.”
Verstappen has previous race experience at Zandvoort, albeit in a Formula 3 car, and since he won the Formula 3 Masters event there in 2014, the track has gone through some big changes.
The experience that the Dutchman feels might benefit him are his demonstration runs for Red Bull at the track, but he knows it won’t be long before everyone knows the track when practice gets underway on Friday morning.
“I’ve only done one race at Zandvoort, and it was in a Formula 3 car,” said the Dutchman. “At that time I was known as ‘the son of’ but it’s going to be the other way around now [laughs].
“The track has of course changed since then, with a few corners adjusted. Already in the F3 car, the corners were really enjoyable, and they were pretty fast so I’m excited to race again in the F1 car with even more grip.
“I’ve also been there a few times with Red Bull for show runs in an old f1 car, so I have driven a few laps on the updated track in an F1 car which could be useful on the first few laps.”
Verstappen comes into the Dutch Grand Prix on the back of his sixteenth Formula 1 career victory at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend, but with the race being run for only a handful of laps behind the safety car, he knows it was not the way he would have wanted to win any race.
“It’s not how you expect to win a race and not the way we wanted the weekend to go but a win is a win, and the points are still important for both championships and we have to maximise every opportunity,” said Verstappen.
“Of course, as drivers we all wanted to race and put on a show for the fans, but it was clearly not an easy decision and the lack of visibility meant it just wasn’t safe in the end, so we have to respect that.”
“I really hope that Zandvoort is the race that brings us back to the podium” – Sergio Pérez
Team-mate Sergio Pérez was full of praise for his mechanics during the Belgian Grand Prix, with the team fixing his damaged car during the red flag period after he crashed on the way to the initial grid.
Pérez should have started seventh but lost control of his car at Les Combes, with the right-front corner of the car hitting the barriers. He was able to get back to the pits, with the initial thought being he would be a non-starter.
However, with the delays caused by the weather in Belgium, his team was able to work wonders to get the RB16B fixed for the restart, even though he was unable to do anything but follow the pack around behind the safety car for a couple of laps before the race was red flagged once more and then declared as a result.
“My Team did an incredible repair job in Spa so now I just want to repay them with a result this weekend,” said Pérez. “What they did was so impressive, it just shows how hungry everyone is at Red Bull Racing Honda.
“The teamwork and the way everyone jumped on the car without giving up on a chance of repairing it in time made me extremely proud and it was amazing to witness it in the garage.
“For sure it’s tough to stay focused during the red flag period, especially when your car is in a million pieces. It is quite challenging, and then it’s not certain if the race will even happen so it’s really important to stay in the zone. You just have to be prepared at all times because you never know what can happen, this is the key.
“Max did a really good job in qualifying on the Saturday and it was great that he was able to score some valuable points and close the deficit to Mercedes.”
Pérez hopes this weekend is the one that sees him return to the podium for the first time since the French Grand Prix, although he will also be looking to end a run of three races where he has failed to score any points.
“It’s been a while since I took part in a race [laughs] so I am looking forward to when the lights go out this Sunday, that’s for sure,” said the Mexican. “I really hope that Zandvoort is the race that brings us back to the podium and we are pushing hard as a Team to make sure that happens.”