Zandvoort was home to Formula 1 glory, lawlessness and tragedy | Formula One
TIt’s time to make history again, proclaim the billboards surrounding the Zandvoort circuit for this weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix. Formula 1 is delighted to return to this marvelous track which sweeps and undulates through the sand dunes nestled on the shores of the North Sea. The past is rich here, there are glories to celebrate and tragedies to honor, while looking to the future.
Many fans of the local hero Max Verstappen won’t be born in F1’s last race here in 1985, but until then Zandvoort was a fixture on the calendar.
It hosted its first F1 race in 1952 and was an immediate favorite with drivers; the quick and quick turns, the narrow track and the merciless runoff was a challenge they enjoyed.
They ran on a track born of conflict and hope after the destruction of World War II. Zandvoort organized its first race in the streets of the city in 1939, but after the war adopted a plan to create a permanent circuit around the communication routes built in the dunes by the occupying Nazis. They laid foundations from the rubble recovered from the Art Nouveau buildings on Boulevard de Zandvoort which had been demolished by the Germans.
It opened in 1948 and was a cheerfully lawless affair from the start. Without a pit box, the teams would use the garages in the nearby town, some towing their cars to the track, while many enthusiastic spectators would be there by dint of slipping under a fence.
Soon after, those 2.6 miles of tarmac offered classic moments, some of which resonated throughout the sport. BRM beat its F1 duck here with a victory for Swede Jo Bonnier in 1959. An achievement to be noted in particular because the car was so unreliable, pointed out a year later in the same race when Dan Gurney brakes BRM failed at the first intense 180 degree corner, the infamous “Tarzan”. A bystander was killed in the crash, affecting Gurney deeply and later he adapted his driving style to use his brakes more sparingly. He then won in F1, Le Mans, IndyCar, Can-Am and Nascar.
Between 1963 and 1965 Jim Clark scored a hat-trick at Zandvoort, but for the sport itself the highlight was the race he won here in 1967. It was the debut of the Cosworth Double Four Valve V8 engine. (DFV) of Ford in the Lotus 49 of Colin Chapman. and heralded the future of F1. Chapman had brilliantly made the engine a supporting component of the car, bolted to the monocoque, suspension and gearbox. It was revolutionary and became the benchmark for manufacturing F1 cars. The engine was also an absolute masterpiece dominating the sport for over a decade.
Indeed, it was a DFV that propelled James Hunt’s Hesketh when they captured their first and the team’s only F1 victory here in 1975. Hunt later described it as the most important of his career. life. Hesketh, the team created by Lord Hesketh, were the party team but had a really decent car in 1975 with the 308. In the Netherlands, however, Ferrari and Niki Lauda had to dominate.
Hunt made the bet to switch to slick tires very early on on a wet track. It paid off and he took the lead. He then had to fend off Lauda for the final third, but Hunt found that if he took the last corner with absolute precision, all he had to do was maintain his pace and take the lead in the first corner. A similar strategy may well come in handy this weekend. Hunt did it brilliantly and learned he could win under intense pressure without making a mistake. “It was the completion of my training as an F1 driver,” he said later. “It got me the 1976 championship, my first and only chance in a competition car.”
Lauda also had his moments here, winning in 1977 and again with the final victory of his career in 1985 in his final season, the culmination of his last difficult year at McLaren. The captain pushed back a charging Alain Prost by just two tenths of a second.
Four years after Hunt’s first victory, Zandvoort was treated to another extraordinary spectacle. Gilles Villeneuve was second when his left rear tire exploded as the Canadian had just passed the pits. Refusing to return the ghost, Villeneuve manhandled his car around the track on two wheels. The rest of the left rear dragging on the ground with its right front consequently waving in the air. Decried by some as futile (after being in the pits his car was too damaged to continue) and dangerous, to many it was the heart and soul of a tenacious competitor.
Unfortunately, some of these great fighters also found their end in the dunes. The much loved British driver Piers Courage was killed here in a De Tomaso car driven by Frank Williams in 1970. He crashed at the high speed tunnel bend on the old route and his car was burnt to the ground. flames.
Three years later, one of F1’s most tragic crashes occurred, when Roger Williamson’s March suffered a tire failure and overturned. Williamson was trapped in the burning car but the marshals, without flame retardant clothing, could not help him. His friend the driver David Purley stopped to help him but was unable to put out the fire or return the car on his own. The race continued as he tried to no avail, with other drivers believing that Purley was only trying to put out the fire in his own car and unaware that Williamson was dying of suffocation in the wreckage. Subsequently, flame retardant clothing was made mandatory for all marshals, a practice in place to this day. Purley, who was upset that he couldn’t save his friend, later received the George Medal for his bravery.
In 1985, in financial difficulty and with facilities more suited to modern F1, the sport left Zandvoort behind. The track was truncated according to a new layout in 1990 and its current configuration in 1999. Tighter and more sinuous, it presents this year two turns inclined at 18 degrees. A new era and perhaps as fans who have descended by the thousands this week hope, Verstappen will be the last entry in the Zandvoort history books, leaving his own mark in the sand.
Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the opening practice ahead of Verstappen although the race was limited after Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin stopped on the track and took some time to retire. In the afternoon, Hamilton suffered a setback when his car lost power after just three laps. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were the fastest for Ferrari with Verstappen fifth.