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After washout, Verstappen’s home race could create heat

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Mercedes' driver Lewis Hamilton competes in the qualifying session of the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit on August 28. AFP

After washout, Verstappen’s home race could create heat

Formula One hopes a return to “a proper old-school track” in the Netherlands this weekend can wipe away memories of last Sunday’s farcical washout in Belgium.

The first Dutch Grand Prix since 1985 is the second leg of a triple header of three races in three weeks.

The opener was a damp squib that is still causing bickering in Formula One.

It ended in a controversial ‘race’ of two completed laps behind a safety car in a downpour at Spa-Francorchamps.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen simply led unchallenged from pole position until the race was red-flagged and abandoned and received half points for his hollow triumph.

It was enough for him to trim Lewis Hamilton’s advantage to three points.

The Dutch driver could take the lead before his enthusiastic fans as Formula One returns to Zandvoort, a fast circuit set in coastal sand dunes at the beach resort near Amsterdam where the last winner was Niki Lauda for McLaren in 1985.

The undulating track, which features banked corners and sea views, has retained its unique, challenging and quirky character, including the famous Tarzan corner.

Even with a reduced attendance it should create a carnival atmosphere.

The circuit has a capacity of 105,000 and the race was sold out, but the attendance for a long-awaited chance to see Verstappen in action on home soil will be restricted by Covid to around 70,000 fans per day.

Even so, many of the ‘orange army’ will be there in some welcome warm dry weather after being soaked at Spa.

Verstappen will be trying to become the first Dutchman to win his home event, while seven-time world champion Hamilton will be bidding to become the first man to win 100 Grands Prix.

“It wasn’t a satisfying feeling to leave Belgium with just a handful of laps behind the safety car, but it is what it is,” said frustrated Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff. “We need to close that chapter and quickly move on and focus on the next one.

“Zandvoort is an exciting track for the drivers because it’s fast and flowing. It feels like a proper old-school track so I am sure they are looking forward to taking on that challenge.

‘Unacceptable result’

“And as a team, we are relishing the challenge of tackling a new track and that means fresh opportunities to find advantage. We aim [to] hit the ground running on Friday and take the fight to our competitors.”

Despite calls, led by Hamilton, to consider giving the spectators in Belgium a refund, Wolff stressed it was best to “move on”, but he faced some opposition with McLaren team boss Zak Brown calling for action.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of learning to come out of that weekend, in how to handle the wet, how to handle the rules and the points, how you handle the fans,” said Brown.

“I’m very happy that the leader of our sport Stefano [Domenicali] shares those same views that that was an unacceptable result and has called all the team bosses together in Holland to address it, learn from it and fix it.”

As the arguments over reimbursing the Belgian crowd rumble on, the noisy Dutch fans are likely to give Hamilton a difficult reception as he resumes his title scrap with Verstappen.

Mercedes may have a car that enjoys the track more than Red Bull in a close contest in which McLaren and Ferrari could be a threat while, in the background, speculation about the driver line-ups for next year is likely to intensify.

Finn Kimi Raikkonen on Wednesday announced his plan to retire this year, leaving a seat vacant at Alfa Romeo, which compatriot Valtteri Bottas is expected to land if he is replaced at Mercedes by Briton George Russell of Williams.

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