Lammers: New Zandvoort almost as unforgiving as Monaco

Arie Luyendyk knows a thing or two about racing around banked turns, the two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 liked what he saw when Formula 1  star Max Verstappen took him on a spin around the renovated Zandvoort circuit.

It now features two steeply banked turns intended to make overtaking a little easier when F1 returns to the Netherlands for the first time since 1985.

“It’s way above my expectations,” Luyendyk said after his laps in an Aston Martin.

With Verstappen at the wheel, they tested the 14 turns of the 4.25-kilometer (2.64-mile) track draped over the sand dunes in this North Sea coastal town west of Amsterdam.

Luyendyk said the banking at the two turns – including the last, which is named after him – are game-changers on a track where it used to be notoriously tough to overtake.

That’s good news for Verstappen, who is one of the best and the most audacious at overtaking in F1

“When you approach the turn and you see nothing but asphalt and banking it’s quite an optic,” Luyendyk said. “That takes your breath away to begin with.”

The changes to the banked corners are among a host of upgrades to the track as it prepares to host the Dutch Grand Prix on May 3.

Former F1 driver and Dutch Grand Prix sporting director Jan Lammers ran through some of the upgrades:

  • The start-finish line has been moved 200 meters (yards) forward so fans in the main grandstand can see all of the grid as the cars prepare to start;
  • the home straight has been widened as has the first turn, known as Tarzan, giving drivers more room;
  • some curbstones also have been flattened, also creating a little more space.

But even with the changes, it remains a narrow track.

“It’s a track which is almost as unforgiving as Monaco,” Lammers said. “You make a mistake, then you’re off.”

Unlike Monaco’s sinewy street circuit often is, though, Lammers is confident this race won’t be a procession for whoever grabs the lead off the starting grid.

“Turn 3, in particular, it’s easy to overtake somebody,” he said. “But to keep that overtake on the exit, that’s going to be difficult, so there’s going to be quite a few swaps.”

That will please fans of Verstappen, the 22-year-old Dutchman known for his aggressive driving style.

Verstappen, who won two Grand Prix races last year to take his F1 tally to eight, likes the changes but would prefer not to have to overtake.

“I’ll definitely try first to qualify first and if that doesn’t work out, then we have to find a way to pass,” the Red Bull driver said.

Red Bull made significant progress last year in the first year of its engine partnership with Honda, after an acrimonious split with Renault.

But Red Bull was too often behind Ferrari and Mercedes in qualifying to give Verstappen much of a chance on race day. Verstappen’s pole position in Hungary last July was his first. He then got another in Brazil, but the 19 others were shared by Mercedes and Ferrari.

As Verstappen completed seven laps of the Zandvoort circuit last week in a 2012 RB8 F1 car, scores of construction workers wearing orange high-visibility vests cheered him on from the main stand overlooking the start-finish straight and pit lane.

Come race day, the yellow dunes around the track will be awash in the orange of thousands of fans wearing the Netherlands’ national colour.

Verstappen’s immense popularity was one of the driving forces behind the move to bring F1 racing back to the Netherlands for the first time since the late Niki Lauda won the race in 1985. It was the 25th and last win of his career, as he finished ahead of F1 greats Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in a glittering Zandvoort podium.

Lauda died in May last year, aged 70, following a lengthy illness. He won three F1 titles, and Verstappen is touted as a future multiple F1 world champion.

Many observers believe Verstappen could challenge Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton — the six-time F1 champion — if he had an equally fast car.

Verstappen draws huge contingents of orange-clad supporters to Spa in neighbouring Belgium and in Austria. When he won at Spielberg last year, with a borderline legal yet dazzlingly brazen overtake on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, he sent the crowd into raptures.

His home Grand Prix promises to be one huge celebration of Verstappen. Even more so if he manages to quell the dominance of Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Luyendyk won’t give Verstappen advice about how best to race around banked turns. Such is Verstappen’s incredible natural feel for racing, he doesn’t need to.

“I just drove around the track with him in the Aston Martin and it was quite spectacular,” Luyendyk said. “The car control he has is amazing.”