George Russell encountered a spot of difficulty convincing the Zandvoort security team to let him in. More stories from the paddock at a buzzing Dutch Grand Prix.
After my parking confusion on Friday all goes to plan and I’m parked up and on the coach within an hour of leaving my bed-and-breakfast. En route to the circuit I spy signage claiming 70% of spectators are using sustainable transport to the circuit – which may be so, yet media, F1 team personnel and VIPs are shuttled about in 60-seater coaches, each ferrying a mere handful of passengers per trip.
In Spa we used back routes to enter the media centre and were denied trackside tabards to prevent contact with the public and folk outside of our ‘bubble’, yet a week later we are directed through main (public) gates, with much jostling – particularly from fans intoxicated by Max Verstappen’s performances and/or sponsor Heineken’s products. None of the Covid stuff makes any sense, which is perhaps the intention.
Accessing the track for final practice here is no issue as the media centre is located alongside the heavily banked turn three, so I spend the hour comparing lines through the 19-degree banking. Three things are clear immediately: it’s a challenge (as Carlos Sainz Jnr proves when he crunches into the barrier), that a number of drivers are still experimenting with lines, and that Fernando Alonso seems consistently the fastest through the complex.
When I later chat to an Alpine source he confirms their driver’s superiority through the complex from GPS data, and we wonder whether his IndyCar experience provides the decisive advantage. As it turns out, on lap one of the race Fernando is the only one to overtake through the turn with a decidedly risky move on the high line.
The short run-off area mean that barrier construction on the banked sections is extremely robust, with 1,000kg concrete blocks and tyre walls cable-tied into place. All in, the extent of the work put in by the circuit to qualify for a grade one (F1) licence is extremely impressive.
My walk back to the media centre takes me through the official vehicle park, where I spy a VW Golf R ‘Race Control’ car. I’m reminded of a discussion I had in Spa about Mercedes withdrawing from car supply – save for medical and safety cars, shared with Aston Martin – in turn requiring race promoters to supply course cars. However, I do wonder why F1 does not specify ‘F1 brands’ only may be used.
The balance of the year’s race dates were confirmed last week although the venue for Australia’s replacement is open. I dig into reasons for the TBA and the chances of F1 racing in Qatar, as first revealed by RaceFans. It seems the Qatari government is concerned about F1 as a ‘super-spreader’ and has requested vaccination rates to establish risk levels. Thereafter a decision will be taken: Qatar or Bahrain.
During the post-qualifying media sessions it becomes evident the driver market is in full swing, with numerous announcements expected during the run up to Monza, including George Russell as Valtteri Bottas’ replacement at Mercedes, with the latter moving to Alfa Romeo (confirmation of which followed on Monday). Talks for Alex Albon to join Williams are far advanced, while the battle for the second Alfa Romeo seat is intensifying.
After the contretemps between the two Haas drivers during qualifying I tune into their media sessions, and from their tones I wonder how much longer before it all melts down. The problem for Haas is that both drivers are effectively customers, with their benefactors paying the team for seats. The customer is king, but in this case there are two kings of equal status but opposite personalities.
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I check out of the bed-and-breakfast early as I’ll be heading home after the race – ready to depart Monday for Monza via Munich (attending IAA, the German motorshow) and Hinwil (to visit Sauber, who run Alfa Romeo’s team) – and arrive at the circuit at 8am. I’m impressed by how clean the circuit is, with not a speck of refuse about. Equally impressive is the sight of a flag on each seat in the main stand, arranged to depict the red/blue/white Dutch flag.
My first appointment is with Jan Lammers, ex-F1 driver, Le Mans winner with Jaguar and now sporting director of the Dutch Grand Prox. As reported here, the promoter lost $10m through government restrictions on fan numbers. He tells me event staff numbers 1,500 – 1,400 volunteers and 100 full-time. It sure felt like it: The chain of command at coach stops had five links, and catering staff cleared dishes before we were done.
I also meet with Tom Garfinkel and Richard Cregan, head honchos for the Miami Grand Prix. The former remarks on Zandvoort’s non-stop fan engagement, which keeps the 70,000 crowd raving. When an American entertainment mogul says he’s impressed with the razzmatazz you know it’s good.
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They are targeting a May date for their 2022 inaugural race but with Zandvoort and Monaco also chasing that month it will be tight even if Spain drops out as expected.
On my way back to the media centre I’m amused to see Russell explaining to paddock turnstile staff who he is. It seems he’d left his pass inside the previous evening. Whatever, medical car driver Alan van der Merwe and I can’t resist telling attendants not to believe his story to begin with, before eventually persuading them to let him through. Hope you remember that when I request an interview with a Mercedes driver, George…
After the race the drivers are united in their enthusiasm for the track. Red Bull’s Christian Horner saying he feels like he’s been in a Dutch nightclub for three days.
All in, the Dutch Grand Prix was a tremendous event, but a somewhat tedious race. But it looked like the majority of the 70,000 punters got exactly what they paid for.
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