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

Zandvoort has only been back on the Formula 1 calendar for just a year and it has become a firm favourite.

Its idyllic waterfront location and party atmosphere create a lively atmosphere, the rolling, fast and narrow track is a good test of skill, and it is also a trailblazer, with around 80% of fans opting for a sustainable approach The way you track – walk, bike, or continue to ride public transportation.

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Even on Wednesday, four days before the game, Zandvoort was buzzing about the arrival of their hero Max Verstappen, who will be crowned world champion for the first time in his career this weekend Play locally.

The seaside bar was packed, with most fans dressed head to toe in orange. Inside the track on Thursday’s media day, you can see fans peeking through the fence, tiptoeing on one of the many dunes that surround the 4km course, and lining up at the gates, hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes.

Verstappen will look to repeat last year’s win

Zandvoort exploded when Verstappen won here last year, F1 returning to the historic circuit for the first time in more than 30 years – the party went on all night, and the party went on as we headed to the airport on Monday morning.

Given Verstappen’s current state, a similar celebration is likely. He arrived in Zandvoort after the most dominant Grand Prix victory of his career, followed by a 10th in Hungary and a 14th in Spa.

Read more: Max Verstappen pays tribute to father Joss with special Dutch GP helmet design

Verstappen is nothing like the driver who achieved the victory his loyal Orange Army aspired to at this time last year in Zandvoort.

Winning the world championship has activated another level of his skill set. The pressure is gone. He’s attacking with the same level of focus every weekend — but he likes it better.

Ferrari will look to upset their rivals this weekend

Crucially, in the heat of battle, he reduced his full-attack approach by 0.5 percentage points and was more cautious — making him a more promising prospect.

The result was nine wins from 14 races (he won a total of 10 races last year) and a 93-point lead in the drivers’ championship. That form means how long — not if — he will defend his title.

However, Verstappen and his Red Bull team are likely to face a tougher test at Zandvoort this weekend, a far cry from the Spa circuit where they completely dominate.

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The Zandvoort is almost half the length, with banked corners everywhere and only one true straight – which means it’s busy for the riders. There is no recovery time. The track is also narrow, with gravel traps instead of asphalt runoff to enhance the challenge.

While overtaking is possible – most likely into the banked Turn 1 – qualifying is crucial here. This is also Ferrari’s strength this year. The Red Car has started P1 nine times out of 14 attempts this season – seven by Charles Leclerc and two by Carlos Sainz – and tends to outperform the Red Bull on a lap There is the slightest advantage.

Can Mercedes rediscover their form here?

With that in mind, Ferrari is somewhat optimistic that they will be a bigger threat than Spa – but they and Red Bull need to watch out for Mercedes’ lurking.

The Silver Arrows recovered from a tense and twisty Hungaroring, with George Russell taking his first career pole and the team’s first of the season. “We hope this weekend will be better,” Hamilton said.

“This track, if you try to compare it to another track, it’s more similar to a place like Budapest, so hopefully the operating window will be better for us.

“Obviously at Spa you have long straights in the first and last quarters, then you have very low-speed corners and very high-speed corners, and we have a very good working window for this car at the moment. Narrow, aerodynamic. I hope the track is better for it this weekend. The pace of our race is still to our advantage.”

Read more: Mercedes strategy chief says Hamilton decided to ‘fight’ at Zandvoort after 45g shock in Belgium

Even if Verstappen is a favourite this weekend – which will delight the thousands of fans who chanted his name every time they passed them in the stands – it shouldn’t be like it was at Spa easy.

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