No one could have anticipated that Saturday’s Qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps could be so vital but due to the well documented events of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix – it certainly was. On that occasion, the top three steps of the podium were effectively already decided on the Saturday due to the weather preventing any competitive running. This Sunday, as F1 returns to Zandvoort for the first time since 1985, Max Verstappen is predicting that qualifying could be just as crucial again. On this occasion it will not be due to the weather but rather the track itself.
The fanfare to greet the return of the Dutch Grand Prix has been over a year in the making due to the fact the consequences of COVID-19 resulted in it not making its original 2020 return as planned. This weekend 70,000 race fans will descend on Zandvoort daily and truth be told they could have sold the event out twice over but in reality, refunds occurred due to overselling. All this shows that the support for Max Verstappen at his home Grand Prix will be filled to the brim - as much as possible.
Red Bull Racing’s recent press release revealed the excitement Max Verstappen has for the upcoming Dutch Grand Prix but also outlined the importance of qualifying. Having clawed back some of his deficit of points to seven-time World Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton, a win on home soil would result in Max Verstappen retaking the lead of the F1 Drivers' Championship.
"I'm really looking forward to the race at Zandvoort," said Verstappen. "It will be special to have a race in the Netherlands in front of my home crowd but also as a driver it's a good challenge to go to a new circuit and find the limit in an F1 car.
"It was amazing to see so many fans supporting us in Austria and Belgium and I hope we can put on a good show for everyone in the grandstands this weekend. As for the track, it might be a little hard to overtake on but for single lap performance I think it's going to be rewarding. The qualifying laps will be very quick there so any mistakes will be really costly.
Max Verstappen is in a good position to comment on the circuit seeing how he won the 2014 Formula 3 Masters race at Zandvoort. Despite the fact that the track has been modified somewhat since then, as the poster boy of the Dutch Grand Prix and its marketing machine, Verstappen has had the upper hand. Red Bull Racing’s talismanic driver has benefited from partaking in some demonstration runs which means he is one of the few drivers to have driven Zandvoort in its most updated form.
"The track has of course changed since then , with a few corners adjusted," remarked Verstappen. "Already in the F3 car, the corners were really enjoyable and they were pretty fast so I'm excited to race again in the F1 car with even more grip. I've also been there a few times with Red Bull for show runs in an old F1 car, so I have driven a few laps on the updated track in an F1 car which could be useful on the first few laps."
"After the race was cancelled last year this year will be even more special and of course it would be amazing to win on another home circuit in front of the Orange Army.”
However, set to spoil the party as ever will be Sir Lewis Hamilton and at the home race of his closest rival, a victory at the Dutch GP for the Briton would be his 100th Grand Prix win in the Premier class of racing. Hamilton rarely needs to be motivated but such an accolade can surely not be too far from his mind.
To see two of the greatest drivers of modern F1 go wheel to wheel on track would be a treat…but the nature of Zandvoort ensures that this will likely not come to pass.
Zandvoort in 2021 brings with it a banked final corner as well as a long straight and as such this will ensure it is one of the fastest tracks on the calendar. Therefore, the focus will be firmly fixed on Saturday and qualifying. As once again, P1 then could very well lead to the top step of the podium just 24 hours later.