After the rain-affected Belgian Grand Prix, the action continues this weekend with Zandvoort set to make its return, hosting Round 13 of the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship.
The return of the Dutch Grand Prix was initially scheduled for 2020 but postponed to this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic as organizers did not want to celebrate the return with a race that is held behind closed doors. It means that the Dutch Grand Prix is a relative step into the unknown for the majority of the current Formula One grid.
There have been 32 Dutch Grands Prix so far, but only 30 of these races were part of the championship, meaning that this Sunday’s race will be the 31st Formula One World Championship Dutch Grand Prix.
All Dutch Grands Prix were held at Zandvoort despite the fact that the Netherlands has another great race track. However, Assen is used for motorcycle racing, and has hosted the Dutch TT, a round of the Motorcycle World Championship, since 1949.
The first ever F1 Dutch Grand Prix took place in 1952 and was won by Ferrari’s Alberto Ascari, who went on to take a second win the following year. The last Dutch Grand Prix was won by an Austrian with McLaren’s Niki Lauda crossing the finish line first in his McLaren-TAG.
The most successful driver is Jim Clark who won the Dutch Grand Prix four times, followed by Jackie Stewart and Lauda, who won three races apiece. The other repeat winners are Ascari, Jack Brabham, James Hunt and Alain Prost with all of them having two triumphs in the Netherlands to their names.
Ferrari is the most successful constructor at the Dutch Grand Prix with eight victories. The Scuderia won twice with Alberto Ascari at the wheel with Wolfgang von Trips, Jacky Ickx, Didier Pironi and René Arnoux also having clinched a win with the Maranello-based outfit. As mentioned, Lauda won the last Dutch Grand Prix, but the three-time world champion took his first and second victory at Zandvoort with Ferrari.
With some high-energy corners and no relevant previous data to fall back on, Formula One’s sole tyre manufacturer Pirelli thought that the hardest tyres are the most suitable choice. This tyre selection has been chosen for the fourth time this season.
The circuit measures 4.259 kilometres. Zandvoort is located in an area of sand dunes near the beach, with the wind sometimes blowing sand onto the track and affecting grip; an issue normally associated with places like Bahrain.
The track climbs and drops significantly and several sections are crowd favourites. This nature of the layout will make the circuit a very challenging location where the tiniest mistakes are punished as the run off zones are old-school gravel traps. The track has an extremely narrow nature and features a twisty layout, which means that overtaking is far from easy. The medium- and high-speed corners require a medium to high downforce set up.
The Zandvoort circuit looks somewhat different to the track that last hosted Formula 1 in 1985 as it has been modified and made more spectacular at a couple of points in particular: turn 3 and the last one, turn 14 (named after former circuit director John Hugenholtz and Dutch driver Arie Luyendyk respectively), now boast a 19 degree banking, which should allow the drivers to go through them at much higher speeds.
Apart from the banked corners, there are other famous turns at Zandvoort. One of these famous corners is the Tarzan hairpin: the first corner of the lap, which is now closer to the start-finish line than it was previously. The Hans Ernst bend towards the end of the lap also has a wider exit than it did before, enabling drivers to get on the power sooner.
The weekend's schedule follows the usual programme. The cars take to the track at 11.30 local time for the first hour of free practice, with the second one taking place at 15.00. On Saturday, the final free practice session start at noon, with qualifying getting underway at 15.00. The 31st Dutch Grand Prix to count towards the Formula 1 World Championship will start on Sunday at the same time.
Pirelli's Head of F1 and Car Racing Mario Isola said: “The Dutch Grand Prix is obviously a new challenge but thanks to the data provided by Formula 1 and the teams, we have been able to come up with a tyre nomination and prescriptions that are closely aligned to what we can expect from this exciting new venue.
"Being a new track, the free practice sessions will also be essential when it comes to gathering real data and formulating the tyre strategy for the race. What's for sure is that the circuit layout is going to place heavy demands on the tyres, as can be seen from the computer simulations that we have already carried out. We’ve already raced at Zandvoort in the GT World Challenge this year, and this too has provided us with some useful information," the Italian concluded.