A flight of fancy

I was asked by a Brazilian magazine today to help them out for an article they are doing about old racing circuits. They wanted to know which track I would revive and why it should be part of the World Championship.  I took a five minute coffee break and mulled it over. Hmmm…

I always liked Estoril. It was a decent track in a very nice area. I loved Buenos Aires too and the old Autodromo was great. I never went to Watkins Glen, although I have flown over it. I heard great things about it and it sounds pretty good today.  I always liked Brands Hatch as well, but I guess that it is just not possible to try to turn back the clock when there are Green Belt regulations and the village of West Kingsdown right next door. I am also a big fan of getting a French Grand Prix back again and while Magny-Cours is a nice circuit, it is still a million miles from anywhere.  Paul Ricard is a place for which I have sunny memories as well and the exciting fast corner at Signes. There was also Long Beach, of course, which would be great for Formula 1 in lots of different ways and I do have to include Adelaide, simply because of the good times we had there and the track, which always seemed to produce good races.

But, in the end, I arrived at a fairly simple conclusion. Yes, it would be good to go back to some of tracks mentioned above, and they would be useful for the strategic growth of F1, but the place I liked the most was Zandvoort – and I would love to see it back in Formula 1.

I know, even as I write these words, that there were will be an avalanche of Dutch naysayers who will immediately write in complaining that I even thought of the idea, listing a string of reasons why it could not ever happen. There is not enough parking, access is terrible, the trees are filled with environmentalists, there is no money and so on, and so on… I am sure that some of it is true, but I wasn’t asked  whether it was possible, I was asked what would I like to see happen. And this is the answer.

Max Verstappen is clearly going to be a major player in Formula 1 in the years ahead  and the Netherlands has a right to be proud and excited about Max. If you study the history of the sport, you often see races popping up a few years after a driver becomes successful. It happened in Brazil, in Argentina, in Mexico, in Canada and I see no real reason why the Netherlands should be any different. There are places where these sort of things cannot happen. It is hard to imagine, for example, that there might be a race in Finland or Denmark, because the population density could not really support such an event. It would require a government or a promoter with very deep pockets (a la Red Bull). But Holland has 16 million people and access to Zandvoort is pretty easy from Belgium, Germany, France and even the UK. I know that the track is different to the orginal layout, but the key corners are unchanged. Yes, I am sure it would require massive safety work and new pits, but it’s only money and you never know if some will turn up. A lot of Grands Prix these days are public transport only, notably Monaco, Singapore, Canada, Melbourne and even Shanghai, so there is no reason why a race at Zandvoort could not follow a similar model. The train station is close to the track and there is a direct link to Haarlem and to Amsterdam. Schipol Airport is not far away.

Why Zandvoort? Well, I have happy memories of afternoons watching the racing cars from the dunes, by the seaside, eating frites and mayonnaise, and all that sort of stuff. It really is an historic circuit with an F1 history that dates back to 1948 when Siamese Prince Bira won the first race. It was a circuit that was laid out by John Hugenholtz,  with the help of English driver Sammy Davis, a Bentley Boy who was also a journalist, being the sports editor of Autocar and using the nom de plume of Casque (which, of course, means “helmet” in French). In reality, both men were rather restricted in what they could do because the layout was based to a great extent on the existing roadways, but Hugenholtz did go on to design Suzuka, Zolder, the Motodrom stadium section at Hockenheim and Jarama in Spain. Hugenholz’s rule of thumb was that one should always have a fast corner followed by a long straight, followed by a tight corner. This created overtaking.

Anyway, Zandvoort was different to other tracks because of its proximity to the beach. It was often windy and sand used to cause trouble, but it was a much-loved track and it went on hosting races until 1985. It was fast, it was scenic, it was in a nice place.

Could it ever happen again? I don’t see why not, with a little national pride and a pile of money. The track has a crowd capacity of only 75,000 and so it would be difficult to make an F1 race cost-effective, although there is no reason why the capacity could not be increased if everyone was working  together. The circuit belongs to the city of Zandvoort, but is leased until 2042 by a company called Circuit Park Zandvoort BV, which dates back to 1948, in various different forms. It was acquired early this year by a company called Chapman Andretti Partners BV, and anyone who knows F1 history will recognise the this must be run by racing enthusiasts,  Mario Andretti having won the Dutch GP in 1978, driving one of Colin Chapman’s Lotus F1 cars. The firm is actually owned by  Prince Bernhard of Orange-Nassau, a cousin of King Willem-Alexander, and investor Menno de Jong. The two men specialise in commercial and industrial real estate development and one would guess that their ambition is to develop Zandvoort, presumably hoping to create some kind of automotive and high- performance technology park, in addition to the racing. The Prince, who races GT cars, inherited a passion for racing from his grandfather, also Prince Bernhard, who was the husband of Queen Juliana.

In any case, it is nice to dream of happy days in the sand dunes.