The glass is two thirds full: Formula one returns to The Netherlands

When we previewed the Sport Summer 2021 a few months back, we did so with a fair measure of trepidation.  Would all the events take place?  Would there be spectators at the venues to see it? It was presumably as the Opening Ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympic Games took place that we knew for certain that the Olympiad would proceed albeit without spectators.  We are now on the threshold of the last of the Sport Summer events and perhaps it will only be when the 2.4 liter, turbocharged V6 engines are revved for the first time at the Circuit Zandvoort in the weekend of 3-5 September that we will truly know the Dutch Grand Prix will take place.  It was always going to be a tough slog to bring Formula One racing back to the Netherlands, but no one could have envisioned just how arduous the task has really been.  

The Dutch Grand Prix was last held in 1985, won by the Austrian racing legend Niki Lauda.   The racing circuit, nestled in the sand dunes of the beach resort town of Zandvoort outside Haarlem was actually sold off to recreation park developers but somehow managed to remain a functional racing track for all the years leading up to the bold endeavor to bring Formula One racing back to the Netherlands. Bolstered by the massive support for Dutch F1 driver Max Verstappen, a group based around the current track owners, including HRH Prince Bernhard of Orange-Nassau, van Vollenhoven, began the long and difficult process of securing the rights and necessary permissions to organize a race for motor sport’s most prestigious class.  While the Dutch have always held more than a passing interest in F1 racing, that has reached a fever pitch in recent years due to the success of their native son Verstappen.  Encouraged by large ‘seas’ of orange-clad fans travelling to F1 venues abroad, the drive was launched to place the Netherlands on the Formula One calendar. 

While Formula One racing has a large following in this country, it also has its share of detractors.  Fossil fuel-based racing has never sat well with the environmental lobby.  Similar concerns have been raised about the venue’s impact on several animal species as well as the expected output of nitrogen oxide.  Until now, the courts have decided that the natterjack toad and the sand lizard can go about their reproductive ways despite the construction of numerous temporary seating structures and have sided with the race organizers.  One could argue that Formula E, with its battery-powered cars would be a better fit.  Dutchman Nyck de Vries locked up the 2021 Championship with his win in Berlin ahead of countryman Robin Frijns but far fewer racing fans have followed the electrified version of top-level motor sport.  Eindhoven has expressed an interest in hosting an event there has been no indication  forthcoming that their bid will be successful.  

Yet it is MaxMania, the brand name of the fanatic support for the son of erstwhile Dutch Formula One also-ran Jos Verstappen.  Whereas father Jos never managed a finish higher than third place, son Max has already taken bronze in the F1 driver’s championship over the past two season and will look to challenge Lewis Hamilton for the ultimate prize in motor sports in this 2021 season.  

The return of Formula One to North Holland was originally slated for the weekend of May in 2020.  In March of that year, the race was postponed and ultimately cancelled with plans for a re-launch after the summer in 2021. Now that the date is finally upon us, concerns have been raised about organising the event in the face of renewed Covid-19 concerns.  Ultimately, the authorities decided to allow the event but in a smaller and scaled back version than the organizer had envisioned.  Dutch Grand Prix had been planned and budgeted for just over 300 thousand visitors but will have to throttle that amount back to 210 thousand.  Also, an extensive entertainment programme featuring a number of musical concerts had to be scrapped.  Ticketholders will be informed if they will be among the chosen ‘few’ to witness a weekend of Dutch motor sport history.  Those who chose standing room seats will be the first filtered out as patrons will be required to have assigned seats with social distancing integrated into the configuration.  The expected financial loss will have to be made up from sources which do not include the Dutch government.  Any financial assistance which could have been forthcoming was intended for events which have already been held in the past.  The organizers have indicated that they will absorbing the projected losses.  With at least two more editions contracted to be held in the coming years and the intention to hold a Grand Prix for the foreseeable future, other options were few and far between.  Dutch racing legend Jan Lammers, who was hired as the public face of the Dutch Grand Prix, put his own positive spin on the developments saying that he sees the glass as two thirds full!

The glass is far emptier for Dutch broadcaster Ziggo who have lost the broadcast rights to the F1 series after this season. The Nordic Entertainment (NENT) Group outbid Ziggo and will be the rights holder in the Netherlands for the coming three years. It remains to be seen if foul-mouthed Olav Mol (he has the delightful habit of spewing English vulgarities during exciting moments of the race) will continue as the commentator for the races at their new TV home.  In any case, for this edition of the Dutch Grand Prix, the race will be broadcast on the open sports channel of Ziggo and RTL (Germany) which is also available on most cable systems throughout the country.  With that, our Sport Summer will draw to a close.  Happily, all events somehow were played out in one form or another and the sports fan in this country was well and truly sated!  

Written by John Mahnen