Formula 1 is finally coming back in Zandvoort after 36 years of absence. The circus was set to come back in Holland last year but, due to the pandemic, the Dutch venue will make its debut on the calendar this weekend.
The circuit has suffered several layout changes over the years, as it has hosted thirty editions of the Grand Prix, seeing winners like Alberto Ascari, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Niki Lauda, James Hunt and Alain Prost. The supreme category of motorsport left Zandvoort in 1985, up until now. The circuit - as it was standing - was not ready to host a Grand Prix, and needed more than a new tarmac surface.
MotorLat.com has had the chance to talk to Jarno Zaffelli, the man behind the the new Zandvoort layout, which promises fun and adrenaline: “a circuit for men who wants to feel like children again and have fun.”
The designer, born in the Italian Motor Valley, has an inspirational story behind him: after trying a career as engineer and a computer scientist, he was looking for something special, a niche where he could work, learn and be the best. Too old to be a driver - as he joked - Jarno was on a motorbike with his friends when they thought an autodrome would’ve been needed in Reggio Emilia.
He started to learn everything about the process of building a circuit only to find out there were no regulations, only guidelines. He studied all of Formula 1 and MotoGP needs for years, up until he hung the pencil on his nail. With the failure of Reggio Emilia’s project, Zaffelli fished out another passion from his teenage years, and started to work as a motorsport photographer.
Everything changed when he attended a racetrack designers conference and, with all his questions, took the attention from Mugello and Imola’s directors. He started to work on both circuits, for safety reasons and new tarmac layouts, and just when he thought about what to do next, MotoGP announced the Argentine Grand Prix at Autodromo Termas de Rio Hondo. Thanks to all of his knowledge Jarno knew the circuit wasn’t ready to host such an event. He made a call, sent an email and then flew to Argentina. Drivers and riders loved that Italian - Argentine circuit and from there on he started to work on more and more circuits up until Zandvoort.
“As a designer I always worked on Formula 1 racetracks who needed to be fine tuned, but in Zandvoort we demolished and rebuilt half of the layout - explained Jarno - it has been difficult, at first, to put together FIA’s needs and my vision for the track, but it was all about building enthusiasm between us, F1, teams, Pirelli and everyone involved. We had ideas that have never been realized in an F1 circuit and our clients were skeptical at first.
“We found a lot of people who just believed in us and now, everyone who sees this circuit is left without words: the circuit is nestled in the dunes and has incredible slopes. People are enchanted by it, like a child in kindergarten, and they have traveled all the circuits in the world, this feeling is incomparable.”
“I really hope drivers can make history here, we just give them a unique playground.”
And Zandvoort really is one of a kind: the circuit has been re-designed to give drivers and fans a rollercoaster feeling. Turn 2 and 3 are completely new, with the unique banking of 18° which will scare but also excite drivers. Max Verstappen already had the chance to drive in his new home circuit and jumped off the car stunned, but ready to try it again.
And the idea behind the new layout and the incredible banking is one of a kind as well: Zaffelli observed the racetrack and saw a marble track in it.
“I look at Zandvoort and I see the marble track I used to build at the beach when I was a child. I used to build a lot of tracks with the sand and I also found a text book with a lot of interesting techniques: when I saw Zandvoort for the first time I saw a marble track, but bigger, with marbles - cars - that could go up to 300km/h.
“How could I keep that effect? All my sand tracks had bankings. I just went to the beach again and started to build until I came up with turn 2 and 3. I tried to study and figure out if they could work.”
“It all started from there: Zandvoort has a playful spirit, is made for people who wants to have fun, is the spirit of children on the beach who want to play with other friends, whom they have never seen or met”.
While adding the extraordinary turn 2 and 3, Zaffelli and his team also tried to extend the main straight by modifying turn 14, the last corner. This will allow an overtaking point at the braking of Turn 1, the famous Tarzan. Thanks to the long T14 there could also be photo-finish arrival.
“Zandvoort is a track for men who wants to feel young again and have fun. I wanna see them on track. I don’t wanna hear anyone saying that overtaking is impossibile - said Jarno - it is possibile, but you have to risk and be brave, like in the 80s or the 90s, you can’t be scared. This track scares because it’s different, unique, has blind spots: all the categories that already raced here had a lot of fun.”
In a few days we will find out who is going to be the first winner of the Dutch Grand Prix, the first one to win on the new layout for Zandvoort. Local hero Max Verstappen is hunting championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who has just 3 points of advantage. The fight for the title is still open and there are still a lot of races to go, but Zaffelli thinks the real winner is Formula 1.
“Verstappen is motivated, Hamilton complete and expert, but the real winner here is Formula 1 - the designer said - holding 22 or 23 races in a season, with the pandemic going on, is incredible. Call it sport, or show, but there are thousands of people involved who are suffering as well and F1 has find a safe way to keep going. This is one of the best of the last season, last year a lot of our circuits came back in the calendar, as well, let’s see what happens.”