Lewis Hamilton and his Formula One rivals were buzzing on Friday as the sport returned to Zandvoort for the first Dutch Grand Prix in 36 years, although the likely lack of overtaking possibilities remained a concern.
“Oh man, the track is epic,” said Mercedes’ seven-times world champion, who last raced at the seaside circuit in his Formula Three days.
“It’s really fantastic. It brought back so many memories when I first got out there. I knew it was great when I was in Formula Three but it’s crazy in a Formula One car.
“It’s a real racing circuit. I don’t think we’ll be able to overtake here, because it’s just high downforce super-fast corners which you probably won’t be able to follow through, but let’s hope.”
Hamilton was fastest in a truncated first practice session, with limited running due to a 35 minute red flag period, and his car then broke down in the second when the two Ferraris were quickest.
A maximum 70,000 fans have been allowed in every day to the event, with organisers saying they could have sold a million tickets in the frenzy to see Red Bull’s Max Verstappen racing at home for the first time.
Almost all of the fans were wearing the orange colours or Red Bull merchandise, creating an extraordinary atmosphere for a Friday.
“It was really enjoyable to see everyone in orange having fun in the grandstands,” said Verstappen. “Of course the track is also very fun to drive with a lot of fast corners so it was good to finally get out there.”
Haas driver Nikita Mazepin, who spun into the gravel in the second session, said his first taste of the track had been memorable.
“The first time I passed the banking in the last corner I experienced something very different with my body — it felt quite cool. A new feeling for me, for sure, in Formula One,” said the Russian.
Williams’ George Russell, tipped to be Hamilton’s team mate at Mercedes next season, said it was definitely a “driver’s favourite”.
“It’s very undulating and all the banking is great to drive. It’s fast, flowing and you can’t put a wheel wrong and that is what we all want from a race track,” said the Briton.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon said the day had been ‘mega fun’ while Spanish team mate Fernando Alonso highlighted the banked corners and crowd atmosphere.