Zandvoort aan Zee, a small Dutch seaside resort on the North Sea, traded in the usual summer visitors for this first weekend in September for a veritable orange tide. By bike or public transport, mostly from Amsterdam, 22 km away, 300,000 supporters turned out to celebrate world champion Max Verstappen.
At 24 years old, the Red Bull driver is an idol in his country. Crowned in extremis in 2021, “Max” has reached heights of popularity in the kingdom. Last year, under the watch of King Willem-Alexander, he won when F1 returned to Zandvoort after a 41-year absence. On Saturday September 3, despite free practice being interrupted the day before by a gearbox problem, he snatched pole position from his rival Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) at his last attempt by just 0.021 seconds. “Unbelievable! Especially after yesterday, we worked really well overnight to turn things around.”he commented soberly.
This year again, the enthusiasm of his fans contrasts with the unexpansive personality of his champion. Max Verstappen is a man of few words. Far from the glamor of his predecessor Lewis Hamilton (seven times titled before him), the youngster focuses solely on his sport and his riding. Stubborn and catchy, he also adds a lot of talent to a difficult temperament.
On Thursday, with the calm before the storm, the driver’s world championship leader – 98 points ahead of teammate Sergio Pérez – calmly assumed his status: “I can’t wait to be there, it’s going to be crazy. I don’t feel any extra pressure because I always try to give my best, whatever the circuit.He told the World. Once I am behind the wheel and at full speed, even though there is orange around me, I will concentrate on my driving and nothing else. »
Atmosphere of a football stadium
In qualifying, Max Verstappen lived a repetition of what awaits him in the race on Sunday (from 3:00 p.m.). The wind off the North Sea brought the sound of engines and the acrid smell of orange smoke.
Around the circuit, in the stands or on top of the surrounding sand dunes, the atmosphere is that of a football stadium. Not always for the better, like when one of these smoke bombs was dropped on the track, briefly interrupting the session. According to the International Automobile Federation (FIA), the undisciplined man was expelled from the circuit. And he elicited the firm protests of his favorite in person: “He’s very silly. Holding smoke bombs is good, but throwing them on the track is stupid.Verstappen lectured.
Such incidents have plagued several Grands Prix this season, most notably in Austria and Belgium last week. Each time, the culprits are part of the “orange army” that passionately follows, sometimes a little excessively, the Dutch champion around the world. After his victory here in 2021, he explained his feelings about the behavior of his followers: “We see it in football, this is how the fans express their passion and their antagonisms. I respect it and try to turn it into positive energy behind the wheel. »
An hour before the start of the tests, in Zandvoort, some fans were already very tired, scalded by the sun and dazed by the freely flowing beer. There is only for Max Verstappen. Within the fan zone, a dozen different merch items bearing his last name occupy the vast majority of the booths.
A large wheel on which sits a gigantic photo of Verstappen’s single-seater gives the place a carnival air. The slogans of his glory are inscribed on T-shirts or polo shirts: “MAXimal”, “Max, we’re back”, “Alle for 1 (All for 1)”… they pack a song of supporters with intoxicating and somewhat tense lyrics. : “Max, Max, super Max, Max, Max, super super Max, Max, etc. »
“A Holiday Weekend”
Physical docker, stocky in his sixties, tattooed and shaved head, Wim seems more interested in the bar than in F1. “It is above all a holiday weekend. We are here for Max, a national pride, and we have fun with friends”, he explains. His comrade Pieter agrees: “We support him as we would support our football club. And we stock up on beerhe jokes, rubbing his stomach. We go ahead because it will be more difficult to drink during the World Cup in Qatar [où la consommation d’alcool sera fortement encadrée]. »
When Verstappen posted the fastest lap on the wire, applause from the crowd greeted his fourth pole position of the season. The very professional pilot loosened up a bit. With a big smile, he was lifted off the ground by a friend, Dutch kickboxer Rico Verhoeven, already present during his coronation in Abu Dhabi last December. “It’s great to see the atmosphere, everyone is having fun”said the hero of the day.
Far from this hustle and bustle, on the nearby long beach, two worlds coexist without almost crossing: that of the vacationers and that of the spectators. Handsome white beard Bertus does crossword puzzles in front of his vacation cabin. Next to the enclosure that contains some chickens in the arena, this 70-year-old Amsterdammer mocks the great barnum that is a few hundred meters away. “Max Verstappen? He is just a boy. Running doesn’t change much. they stay theredelivery, showing the circuit, they don’t come here too much. Just a little at night. »
“It’s good for Zandvoort”
Populated by 17,000 permanent residents, Zandvoort welcomes several million visitors a year. The influx of F1 fans does not necessarily bring an economic boom. As local hotel couple Narda Weebers and Hartger Prophitius explain: “The week before the Grand Prix it is more difficult to have the usual clientele. They don’t come for F1. Roads had been closed since Wednesday.detail. But we balance with the prices that increase during the race weekend, two or three times more than in normal times. »
Little fan of cars and circuits, although he appreciates the champion, Hartger admits it: “The return of the Grand Prix is good for the Zandvoort name. People will go out of season thanks to the popularity induced by F1. » The young son of hoteliers, Pai, also succumbed to the madness of Max Verstappen. “To do like friends, we had to buy him the Red Bull polo shirt [l’écurie du pilote] »says the father of the family.
If he continues at this rate of victories – he is very well placed to win his second successive title – Max Verstappen risks becoming much more than a fad on the Dutch pitch, an icon of world sport.
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