This week I paid a visit to a staple of the Formula 1 calendar between the early 1950s and the mid-1980s, Circuit Park Zandvoort.
Set in the sand dunes of the west coast of The Netherlands, about 30km west of Amsterdam and a mere 250 metres from the beach, it is significant in the history of Williams in Formula 1 as the track at which driver Piers Courage lost his life on the 21st of June 1970 driving a Frank Williams De Tomaso.
Williams’ only Grand Prix win at Zandvoort was in the hands of Alan Jones in 1979.
Whenever visiting a historic circuit like Zandvoort, I like to walk the perimeter (if, like on this occasion, there’s action on the track and I’m not able to get onto the circuit). This includes following the route of the old circuit (if one exists). This was particularly important to me here given events at the Tunnel Oost section of Zandvoort (now a golf course), resulting in the deaths of both Courage and Roger Williamson in separate, yet similar incidents.
And so off I went from the main car park behind the start-finish straight. Down the sandy banks that line the circuit, around Tarzanbocht, and up to the tight left-hand hairpin at Hugenholtzbocht, taking photos all the way.
The section from here to Scheivlak is sweeping and benefits from some wonderful changes in elevation, following which the new track leaves the old. It goes right and undeterred by not being a member (#rebel) I head onto the golf course where Hondenvlak once was.
You can still make out the outline of the old circuit, despite none of the old tarmac remaining which somehow makes it more evocative as you have to use your imagination to picture what it as like in its pomp, it not being there in front of you.
This throws you right back to the 60s, 70s and 80s.
I stood at Tunnel Oost for a few moments, remembering Piers Courage at the site he crashed, and Roger Williamson too, whose oh-so public death shocked the world of Formula 1 into a safety revolution.
Having paid my respects, I hopped over the fence by the second tee, only to be accosted by an elderly Dutch lady whose only words to me in English were ‘You burgle?’.
When I tried to explain to her why I was there (in English, obvs, British people aren’t great with other languages, often struggling with English in some cases), she continued in Dutch, apparently suggesting that the dog she had with her, the smallest, most perfectly groomed, accessory of a dog I’ve ever seen, wasn’t happy with my behaviour and was straining at the leash to savage me.
I petted the dog, smiled and walked off fairly sure she wasn’t going to rush off to lock all her doors and windows in case the English burglar with the lime green flip-flops and digital SLR camera wasn’t prowling the area for his next big score.
I continued the route of the old circuit, back to Bos Uit and towards the Arie Luyendijk Corner where it rejoins the existing layout.
From here it’s a short walk to the paddock access tunnel beside which is the monument to the two drivers who met their ends here. It could be better placed, but it’s a nice tribute to two men who gave up their lives for the sport they loved.
The future of Zandvoort
The popularity of current Red Bull Racing driver and all-round wonderkid Max Verstappen has thrust The Netherlands to the top of Liberty’s list of potential Grand Prix host countries. The two venues capable of holding such an event are Assen in North-East Holland, currently the venue for the Dutch MOTOGP; and Zandvoort, whose last taste of Formula 1 was in 1985, after which it was effectively replaced on the F1 calendar by the Hungaroring in Budapest.
Circuit co-owner Bernhard van Oranje said in 2017 that the circuit could be Formula 1 ready by 2020, the circuit having commissioned their own feasibility study into whether, how long and most importantly how much it would cost for the current FIA Grade 2 listed circuit to make the step up to the Grade 1 it requires in order to bring the Formula 1 circus to town.
It is estimated that €10 million would need to be spent on developing the circuit and its facilities in order to make that leap, but with Max Verstappen a mere 20 years of age, and looking likely to feature at the sharp end of any Formula 1 grid in the next 15 or so years, and with attendances at other Grand Prix in mainland Europe benefitting from an influx of 80-100,000 Dutch fans, €10 million could be a wise investment if those fans were persuaded to descend on Zandvoort once a year for the next decade and a half.
Zandvoort in 2018
Arriving at the circuit from the South, access was through a fairly expansive residential area, which could prove difficult for some racegoers. However, Zandvoort’s proximity to the Ferry port at Ijmuiden (about 10kms North) and Amsterdam/Schiphol Airport (30ms to the East) means that international visitors need only a quick half an hour or so transfer to find themselves at the circuit gate.
The infrastructure around the circuit is more geared towards beach-goers rather than race-goers, but, again, its proximity to Amsterdam will satiate your more discerning Formula 1 fan who might prefer a hotel to a tent.
Inside the circuit the facilities are fairly basic, and quite dated: more Snetterton than Singapore, but there aren’t too many problems ten million Euros can’t sort out!
There’s one permanent grandstand on the start finish straight – not huge (maybe seating 2500-3000 people), and the rest of the viewing areas are either in temporary grandstands, or on the sand dunes that surround the track.
The track itself is fast and flowing, but, as the drivers found out back in the day, there aren’t many overtaking spots which could lead to a bit of a procession. This might not be popular with the current generation of Formula 1 fans (see Albert Park/Abu Dhabi/Monaco Grands Prix and their receptions). Hermann Tilke might have some work to do on that score.
One problem I can foresee is that after Tarzanbocht (turn 1) the track loops back on itself, up to Gerlachbocht which take the cars right, hemming in the paddock area in the process, limiting the pit and paddock square footage and making it unavailable for expansion without a major track layout change.
From a selfish point of view, I’d love there to be a Dutch Grand Prix here. I live in the North East of England and so getting here is a piece of cake. And having experienced the Austrian Grand Prix this year at the Red Bull Ring surrounded by 80 or so thousand good natured and happy Max Verstappen fanatics, it would also be an incredible spectacle to see him and them on home ground.