F1 drivers on Zandvoort: 'This should be the future of circuits'


Corners with multiple lines, unforgiving gravel traps, a raucous crowd – F1 drivers loved Zandvoort, and want to see more of its kind on the calendar

Zandvoort Turn Five

Any which way you like: drivers enjoyed the challenge of different lines at Zandvoort


The Dutch GP weekend was a wonderful shot in the arm for the whole of Formula 1 after a year of largely empty grandstands, with the passion of Max Verstappen’s orange army blowing everyone away.

The Zandvoort event had itself not gone unaffected by Covid. There was an option to run the inaugural race last year without fans, but the organisers made a bold decision to wait for spectators to return rather than start in a low-key manner.

In retrospect, that was a good call – it would not have had anything like the same impact.

“Everybody seems to be happy. Let’s say: ‘It’s a good gin, a good smell!” Jean Todt

Even this year’s race didn’t provide the full picture, as government restrictions meant a two-thirds limit on the crowd and none of the planned concerts and other sideshows such as beach parties.

It was a lesson in good marketing and promotion, and of course in the value of having a local superstar.

“I think it’s great,” FIA president Jean Todt told Motor Sport. “We have a good feeling, it’s quite fresh. Everybody seems to be happy. Let’s say: ‘It’s a good gin, a good smell!’

“And it’s great because it doesn’t just come like that. It’s come because it’s a result of a choice to have this event in the calendar, with a driver with becoming the hero of a country. And so it’s a lot of positive sides. You could see the public were very generous. Like I said, good atmosphere.”


Daniel Ricciardo was one of many who enjoyed the contours of Zandvoort


It was good too to see the sport return to a long-forgotten classic venue, one with a history that stretches back to the early days of the World Championship.

Indeed a look at the 2021 calendar reminds us that this year we’ve gone from Imola to Monaco, Paul Ricard, the Österreichring (poetic licence!), Silverstone, Spa, Zandvoort and on to Monza next weekend. Interlagos and Mexico City are coming up in November.

There have been a few more modern venues along the way – and even Hungary is now 35 years old, and Barcelona 30! But that’s a classic schedule that would have looked very familiar to our heroes of earlier eras.

Zandvoort has changed a lot of course – as have the venues named above – but there are still elements of the track that would look familiar to the likes of Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, James Hunt and Nigel Mansell.

Many were sceptical when the track became a serious contender for an F1 race, even with Verstappen’s presence on the grid ensuring that it would be a commercial success. The circuit had slipped into the second division of international venues, and was best known in recent decades for F3 and DTM events.

“Hopefully, once we have a look at the data, we can go back to our original idea of having DRS” Ross Brawn

It took a lot of work from the circuit, under the guidance of the FIA, to bring it up to standard. The creation of the two banked turns, suggested by circuit technical director Nick Oude Luttikhuis and approved by the late Charlie Whiting, proved to be a brilliant decision. It was something different that drivers and fans enjoyed, especially the tight Turn Three, where different lines were possible.

The one criticism levelled at the track, and which came as no surprise as most of the drivers knew it from F3 and Formula Renault, was a lack of overtaking opportunities.

The last turn had been designed with DRS usage in mind, but in the end the FIA opted not to allow it to be deployed on entry, purely for safety reasons.

That could well change for 2022, now that the FIA and the teams have some data to study. We will also have a new set of rules, including an aero package designed to allow cars to follow more closely.

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“Hopefully, once we have a proper look at all the data, we can go back to our original idea of having DRS from the beginning of the banking, which will help a little bit,” F1 managing director Ross Brawn said after the race.

“It was conservative. I mean, we as F1 didn’t think there was a problem, but we wanted to be conservative. I think with the data we’ve got we feel a lot more comfortable, and so that that’s going to be an option.

“But there was overtaking, you could do it. It was tough, but it could happen, which was great.”

Indeed there was more action that many had anticipated, and more than we get at many modern venues.

“We had wheel-to-wheel, we had a lot on the Turn One exit,” F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali told me. “Yeah, good stuff. I mean, it was great.”

Dutch GP boss Jan Lammers knew that overtaking would be a talking point of the weekend, and he was relieved when we saw action in the race.

ZANDVOORT - Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) during the Dutch Grand Prix at the Zandvoort circuit. REMKO DE WAAL (Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images)

No DRS at banked final turn – yet

ANP Sport via Getty Images

“I think the way they overtake is sort of a little unorthodox,” he told Motor Sport. “You very seldom see that overtaking on the outside is the only way. But we’ve seen situations like that in the past, we’ve seen [Mario] Andretti and Hunt have great battles at Tarzan corner!

“And now today we saw with Lando Norris and Sergio Perez, and on different places. Overtaking these days usually happens because of a tyre switch and stuff like that.

“But I think that Monaco shows that it’s not only overtaking that makes a great race. The second to the last third of the race was very exciting. So now we’re very happy.”

Lammers admitted that the decision not to allow use of DRS in the final corner had probably impacted the show.

“It was fully understandable,” he said. “And also it shows that the FIA does everything to just make sure that they all come home safe. And I tell you, if you come out of the banking, you also go downhill, and then it’s a bit of a dip, that is quite a thing, particularly if you’re behind another car.

“But still, it’s good that they monitored the first race. And for the next race, let’s hope that it can be open and that it even adds excitement.”

The tight Turn Three banking at the other end of the track saw some action during the race, and the drivers enjoyed experimenting with it.

“You can close the exit, or just stay around the outside of the whole corner,” said Charles Leclerc. “And for our car was just better to stay all the way around the outside. But some cars seem to manage to cut back at the end. I think we found the right line for our car.”

It was interesting to note that an F1 team monitoring how lines developed through practice concluded that the man who first figured out the best way round was Fernando Alonso.

Alonso line

Alpine had line advice from Dutch tin-top ace Tom Coronel, Fernando Alonso using it to his advantage on the first lap


That probably comes as no surprise. However, to be fair, both he and team mate Esteban Ocon had a little help from local touring car ace Tom Coronel, who joined them to provide pointers on a track walk courtesy of a mutual connection in the Alpine camp. Marginal gains…

“It’s quite cool,” Daniel Ricciardo noted after the race. “I mean, you can run more than one line. I think that’s the coolest thing. In motocross they have the berms, as they call them, which is their version of banking.

“You have the line of least distance inside, or you have the berm so you can run higher, but with the cushion and carry the speed. And so you kind of have two options. And pretty much on every race track we have the fastest line and that’s it.

“So I think having banking, it creates options, it creates opportunities to play around, do some block passes, as well. There was a nicely executed one in F3. So I like it, it adds it adds some variety.

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“I think probably just some of the other characteristics of the track of being quite fast, doesn’t lend itself to too much overtaking, but the characteristic of the banking, maybe on other circuits could really help.”

One aspect of the circuit that drivers loved was the lack of margin for error. There was no talk of track limits in Zandvoort, simply because of the absence of acres of asphalt run-off. If you put a wheel off you were on dirt or gravel, and either heading off the road or at the very least, losing time.

Carlos Sainz, who had a big crash in FP3 when he got the entry to Turn Three wrong, summed it up well.

“In terms of challenges, away from Monaco and Baku, I think this is biggest challenge of the season for the driver,” he said. “I loved it. Even with the accident I felt like I deserved to crash for being 20cm off line, because this is how a circuit should be.

“And the prices that we all paid when we were doing mistakes out there is how F1 should be, and how we want the circuits of the future to be — not in the direction that they went 10 years ago, that has been unfortunate.”

Sainz crash

Sainz got it wrong at Turn 5, and paid the price


The bottom line is that drivers like gravel traps, and places like the Nürburgring, Mugello and Imola – additions to the schedule forced by Covid – have provided further evidence.

“I think it is one of the coolest tracks, because of the run-off, the punishment you get for making mistakes, like people have done,” said Norris.

“I think at the same time, because we’re in the fastest cars which have ever been made, in a lot of tracks you do need the run-off from a safety point of view for it to be safe and for people not to get injured and things like that.

“I think the cool thing about this track is we have the gravel” Lando Norris

“But it doesn’t mean you just have to have tarmac run-off. You know, I think the cool thing about this track is we have the gravel, and you put a wheel into it a bit too much and you’re in the grass like Nicholas [Latifi] did and things like that.

“That’s the limit. There’s not this tarmac run-off. Where Nicholas crashed, he did have a big crash. And he went in pretty hard.

“And I think it shows that in some places, you do need that extended run-off. But it also shows that having gravel as run-off is okay, it doesn’t have to always be tarmac, which is the thing that as drivers we don’t like as much.

Norris Perez

Perez rounds Norris at Turn 1, intriguingly the optimum way to overtake at that spot


“And it’s also the reason of so many track limits issues nowadays, because it’s tarmac run-off, not gravel. And yeah, I think it’s cool. I think everyone likes this track.”

There is much to be learned from Zandvoort that can help current and future tracks in terms of improving the track action.

And that will definitely happen, because one of the great innovations of the Liberty era is that the F1 organisation has experienced engineers running simulations and working with track designers in large part to improve overtaking opportunities.

Modifications were under way at Albert Park well before this year’s Australian GP was cancelled, while changes are also being made in Abu Dhabi. A lot of thought has also gone into upcoming new venues in Saudi Arabia and Miami.

All of that can only be positive, especially with the 2022 rule package. What new venues can’t buy is the fabulous atmosphere that we experienced at Zandvoort, and which fill the air too at the likes of Silverstone and Monza. That is beyond price…