After a 36 year wait Zandvoort returns to the F1 World Championship in 2021, and while some may view the Dutch venue as a “new” circuit it has a remarkable history that stretches back over 70 years.
In fact the seaside venue hosted its inaugural race in August 1948, two months before the first event at Silverstone. By 1952 the Dutch GP was on the World Championship calendar for the first time, and it remained a regular fixture until 1985, when it was dropped for commercial reasons.
The original track was designed by John Hugenholtz – later responsible for Suzuka – partly using some roads left behind by the occupying German forces after WW2.
In its initial form it consisted mainly of fast, sweeping corners with one heavy braking area at the Tarzan hairpin at the end of the long pit straight, which encouraged overtaking moves. The layout ensured that it was a slipstreaming circuit, especially for underpowered cars in lower formulae.
The original track saw many memorable races, and most of the F1 greats won on it. In the fifties Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss triumphed at Zandvoort, while Jim Clark was the man to beat in the sixties, winning four times. His last success in 1967 was also the first for the new Cosworth DFV engine.
In the following years World Champions Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Mario Andretti, Alan Jones, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost were all added to the role of honour.
Sadly the venue also saw tragedy. Piers Courage died in the 1970 Dutch GP, while Roger Williamson perished in a similar fiery accident three years later.
After Niki Lauda’s win for McLaren in 1985 the race fell off the calendar as Bernie Ecclestone made more lucrative deals with other venues.
Over the decades the venue often faced noise issues, as it was so near to the nearby town of Zandvoort. With housing developments getting ever closer and environmental issues relating to the sand dunes also causing concern the original track was dramatically shortened in 1989, trimming it from 4.2kms to just 2.5kms.
The new lap distance made an F1 return impossible, and it was much harder for the management to attract international events.
Zandvoort operated in that truncated format for a decade before an extension was added to create a revised 4.3kms version in 1999, once again utilising a section of the previously abandoned original track.
However despite occasional talk there was never a serious effort to bring back F1, and the main categories that visited were the DTM and A1 GP, while success in the popular F3 Masters event became almost as important a rite of passage as Macau.
After Max Verstappen’s success boosted interest in F1 in the Netherlands a deal was finally agreed for the Grand Prix to return in 2020. As part of the agreement several corners have been modified, and the final turn onto the pit straight, named after Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, now features dramatic banking – a unique feature among Grand Prix circuits.
Last year’s planned inaugural race was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus the return of F1 to the venue was postponed until this year.
The history of women at Zandvoort
Zandvoort is one of three circuits on the 2021 W Series schedule where the pioneering Lella Lombardi started a Grand Prix, a distinction it shares with Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring.
In 1975 the Italian qualified her works March 751 in 23rd and survived a difficult race that started on a wet track to finish 14th. The previous year she had raced her Radio Luxembourg Lola in the European F5000 race at the same venue, earning a seventh place. She eventually finished that year’s championship in a creditable fifth.
In 1978 the Aurora British F1 Championship visited Zandvoort. Divina Galica started that season with the Hesketh F1 team, but she was dropped after just three events. Returning to the domestic series she put in a superb performance at Zandvoort in her Surtees TS19 to claim second place, beaten only by the similar car of former Grand Prix driver Bob Evans. It was one of the best races of the former Olympic skier’s career.
At the corresponding British F1 event the following year Desire Wilson finished fourth in her Tyrrell 008.
The British F3 series was also an occasional visitor to Zandvoort, and in 1985 Cathy Muller qualified a promising seventh only to be eliminated in a first lap accident.
Zandvoort has played a role in the careers of many up and coming drivers through the F3 Masters and FIA F3 events, although surprisingly few women have taken part. Claudia Hurtgen and Mercedes Stermitz were both on the grid for the second Masters event in 1992, while Tatian Calderon contested Zandvoort F3 events in 2013 and 2015, and Sophia Floersch took part in 2018.
The 2016 ADAC F4 race saw three women on the grid with Floersch joined by Carrie Schreiner and Michelle Halder.
The Zandvoort was a staple of the DTM calendar from 2001 onwards, and several women were series regulars during that time. Susie Wolff raced for Mercedes seven times from 2006 to 2012, logging a best result of 11th.
Vanina Ickx from neighbouring Belgium raced for Audi in 2006 and 2007, although she didn’t record a finish. Katherine Legge subsequently competed for Audi in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 Zandvoort races, while Switzerland’s Rahel Frey appeared at the venue for the same marque in 2011 and 2012.
Of the current W Series entrants local star Beitske Visser knows the track best, having driven there regularly since the start of his career. Her CV includes victory in an ADAC Formula Masters race in 2012.
Fabienne Wohlwend is also familiar with Zandvoort having contested the Audi TT Cup race in 2017, while at the time of writing Belen Garcia was scheduled to contest the Formula Regional Europe race in June 2020.