Wherever you looked, it was a sea of orange. Not so surprising, as the Dutch Grand Prix was home to the ‘Orange Army’, with the grandstands at Zandvoort looking a bit like an explosion in a tangerine packing factory. You see, there hasn’t been a Dutch Grand Prix since 1985 (which resulted in Niki Lauda’s 20th and last Formula 1 victory).
But what there has been, is the Verstappen phenomenon. Through raw talent, fearlessness and aggression, the 23-year-old Dutchman has fought his way into a position to not only challenge Lewis Hamilton for the Formula 1 championship lead, but to steal it from under his very nose. And that has, understandably, got a lot of people very excited. Especially anyone who has a Dutch passport.
Having been promised a Dutch Grand Prix last year (which was cancelled due to Covid) the orange army finally got their wish this year. And the place went crazy. So, what was it like, as a first-time visitor to Zandvoort?
Overwhelming, to cut a long story short. Zandvoort is a small coastal resort on the North Sea, which just happens to have a racing track built next to it. To all intents and purposes, it’s a bit like hosting a Grand Prix in Margate, with 160,000 giants in attendance. The Dutch are the tallest nation in Europe, but they all came to Zandvoort in support of only one of their slightly shorter compatriots. There’s even an inexplicably popular song about him, “Super Max” which will be forever engraved on my cerebellum after five days of ubiquitous playing, like water torture.
“Max, Max, Max, Super Max, Max, Max.” And so on, until you feel like lying down in front of the nearest Formula 1 car to end it all quickly and painlessly. If you’re feeling particularly masochistic, click here to watch this amusing video!
Seriously, who would have thought that the Dutch, with their manners as usually mild as a gouda cheese, would be so fanatical about fandom? In the end, Max won the race, which is just as well as it would have turned into a full-on riot had the result been any different.
One of the other big differences compared to all the other Formula 1 races was the sheer quantity of people who walked or cycled to the track. The railway station was more or less next to the circuit; there was a train to Amsterdam every 12 minutes, and it took half an hour. More circuits should do this.
Keep on walking past the station near the circuit into Zandvoort town proper, and there’s a surprise in store. It really only consists of two cobbled streets that intersect in a central square, but there’s a proper carnival happening, day and night.
Sunday night turned into a no-holds-barred street party, with thousands of orange-suited people celebrating their man’s win. It’s fair to say, in more than 10 years of Formula 1, I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Not even the most ardent Italian tifosi can out-do the Dutch when it comes to letting out their feelings about Formula 1.
To escape the chaos, it’s only a five-minute walk to the beach: and it’s not often that you can say that in Formula 1. Zandvoort town’s beach consists of a colossal expanse of sand dunes, just as the town’s name suggests, and it’s largely populated by surfers, desperate to catch the crest of a North Sea wave. The track itself is a bit like surfing too, as Mick Schumacher (son of Michael, making his Formula 1 debut with the Haas team this year) pointed out.
“I felt some new sensations in my body,” he pointed out – and he wasn’t talking about the relatively nearby red light district of Amsterdam. Instead, he was referencing the unique banked nature of the Zandvoort circuit, like a miniature Indianapolis.
In every sense, it’s an assault on the senses. If you can get to only one Grand Prix next year, go for Zandvoort.
Anthony Peacock works as a journalist and is the owner of an international communications agency, all of which has helped take him to more than 80 countries across the world.
Photographs courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool