Verstappen returns to Zandvoort as favorite – but Ferrari and Mercedes lurking in the wings

Zandvoort has only been back on the F1 calendar for a year, but is already a strong favorite.

Its idyllic beachside location and party vibe create a raucous atmosphere. The undulating, fast and narrow circuit is a test of skill and around 80% of fans are trailblazers either walking, biking or running the track sustainably on-road. Public transport.

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Even on Wednesday, four days before race day, Zandvoort were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their hero, Max Verstappen.

The beachside bar was packed and most of the fans were dressed in orange from head to toe. Inside the circuit on Thursday’s Media Day, fans can be seen peeking through fences, tiptoeing into one of the many dunes surrounding the 4km circuit, and lining up at the main gate hoping to catch a glimpse of the hero. I was able to.

Verstappen aims to repeat last year’s victory

Zandvoort erupted last year when F1 returned to the historic circuit for the first time in over 30 years, when Verstappen took victory here. When I headed to the airport early Monday morning, the party had continued all night and is still going on.

Given Verstappen’s current form, it’s quite possible that a similar celebration will take place. He arrives at Zandvoort after the most dominant Grand Prix win of his career, following a win from 10th in Hungary to 14th at Spa.

READ MORE: Max Verstappen pays tribute to father Jos with special Dutch GP helmet design

Verstappen is a completely different driver than the one who delivered his loyal orange army the coveted victory at Zandvoort last year.

Winning the world title has activated another level in his skill set. Pressure is off. He attacks with the same amount of focus every weekend, but he loves it more.

Ferrari looking to upset rivals this weekend

Importantly, in the middle of the fight, he backed off his All-Attack approach by 0.5% and became more cautious.

As a result, he recorded 9 wins in 14 races (10 wins in total last year), giving him a 93-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship. This kind of form doesn’t mean if he defends the title, but how quickly he can.

But Verstappen and his Red Bull team are likely to face a tougher test this weekend at Zandvoort, so the track to Spa where they dominated completely will be different.

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Almost half the length, Zandvoort is littered with banked corners and has only one actual straight, making it extremely busy for drivers. No recovery time. The circuit is also narrow, with gravel traps rather than asphalt spills to increase the challenge.

Overtaking is possible, but most likely going into banked Turn 1, but qualifying is very important here. And that’s Ferrari’s strength this year. The red car has started P1 nine times in 14 attempts this season. Charles Leclerc his 7th and Carlos Sainz his 2nd.

Can Mercedes rediscover their form here?

With that in mind, there’s optimism for Ferrari that they’ll be a bigger threat than Spa, but they and Red Bull should watch out for Mercedes lurking.

The Silver Arrows returned to form at the tight and twisty Hungaroring, with George Russell scoring his first career pole and the team’s first pole of the season. “Hopefully this weekend will be better,” said Hamilton.

“If you try to compare this track to another track, it’s more like places like Budapest, so I hope the operations window will be better for us.

“Obviously at Spa you have a long, long straight in the first and last section, then a very slow corner and then a very fast corner, and the working window for this car is pretty tight right now, aerodynamically. I hope the track is a little more suitable this weekend, our race pace continues to be our strength.”

READ MORE: Mercedes strategist says Hamilton determined to ‘fight’ at Zandvoort after enduring 45g shock in Belgium

Even if Verstappen is the favorite to win this weekend, which would please the thousands of fans chanting his name in the grandstands, it wouldn’t be as easy as in Spa.

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