When Zandvoort was first announced as making a return to the F1 calendar in 2020 the excitement was huge. This was at a time when a record breaking Orange Army was already expected to attend supporting Max Verstappen. However, once it was clear that any Dutch Grand Prix in 2020 would have taken place without fans due to COVID-19 – Zandvoort was no longer in the running. Fast forward a year later, Zandvoort is back ready to host its first Dutch Grand Prix since 1985. This time the Orange Army has a Championship challenger to support in their man Max Verstappen so no wonder the organisers are preparing for capacity crowds.
When Zandvoort’s original return was first announced on May 14th 2019, Jan Lammers, Dutch Grand Prix Sporting Director, stated: “The Zandvoort Circuit is legendary and known worldwide and we’re delighted to see it host a round of the FIA Formula One World Championship once again. To meet the wishes of Formula 1 and the required standards of the FIA the circuit and infrastructure will be modernized within a few areas, with the work completed well ahead of the race in 2020. In addition, the municipality of Zandvoort has recently invested heavily to improve access to the municipality and the circuit.”
The infrastructure was modernized, the investment followed and now it appears so too could a capacity crowd…albeit a year later than planned.
A capacity crowd would mean that 105,000 people would be in attendance at the Dutch GP in early September. This would be a great leap from the numbers seen in Spain and Monaco this season - but a realistic leap, nevertheless.
As a result of vaccinations and a gradual relaxing of restrictions already seen around certain parts of the globe – a bright future seems more likely.
Last week, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced plans to relax COVID-19 restrictions in the Netherlands, effectively ending lockdown on the 5th of June – three months before the Sunday of the Dutch F1 Grand Prix.
Not only this, but Netherlands’ Public Health Minister Hugo de Jonge has stated that from September 1st he predicts social distancing and mask wearing to no longer be required.
Coincidence or not this can only benefit the Dutch Grand Prix and as such it was not long before the event’s Sporting Director, Jan Lammers filled many a fan with optimism following his comments to the Dutch edition of motoring publication motorsport.com.
"It's going in a positive direction very quickly, but that in itself is not so strange," Lammers revealed. "Everyone knows now how to act with the virus around. And then you have the people who've already had corona and those who have already been vaccinated. If you take all of those things together, you already have a certain amount of spectators who are safe from getting the virus from someone else anyway.
To be clear, the number of 105,000 fans was first heard in comments around what would have been Zandvoort’s 2020 return and Lammers accepts that there are still a lot of unknowns:
"We don't have a clear idea of how big those numbers are at the moment, but it's looking good and that's nice.”
The organisers of the Dutch Grand Prix have always said the race can only proceed with a large amount of fans to make it financially viable. The recent news and predicted timeline of restrictions eased by June 5th is warmly welcomed:
"We need two months to get everything logistically in order. That's more or less our deadline, to be able to put up all the temporary grandstands and things like that. But what is happening now is the result of all the positive things that have already happened in the past few months, if not in the past year. And we can all be proud of that.”
Netherlands recently had a mini dry-run of public crowds in a post-COVID-19 world as it celebrated King’s Day back in April 27th. The day marks the birthday of King Willem Alexander and no one works as a way of celebration. This event was referred to by Lammers in his comments as to the likelihood of a 2021 Dutch Grand Prix:
"We have seen that days like the King's Day have not worsened the figures. And that is a wonderful sign. That means that the trend will continue, perhaps even faster than we are hoping for."
Another trend that seems to be continuing is the performance of Max Verstappen on track in 2021. Having just claimed his first Monaco Grand Prix the Dutchman is now leading the F1 Drivers’ Championship and the form of Verstappen is not lost on Lammers:
"Just imagine if that's still the case by the time we have the Dutch Grand Prix - how beautiful do you want to have it?" Lammers said. "Formula 1 back at Zandvoort with a Dutchman on the grid who regularly wins races and is also leading the standings. If you would have told someone that five or six years ago, they would have said you were crazy!"
There will also be some who feel that it is crazy to expect any number in the region of 100,000 for a daily race crowd but with tickets for the 2020 race remaining valid the fans are certainly ready and willing to cheer on Max Verstappen given half the chance.
We will know more in the next month but all of this shows that the World and not just F1 is starting to turn a corner in the battle against COVID-19 and that is certainly cause for celebration.