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Why the Dutch GP is a must for F1 fans

Since its return to the Formula 1 calendar in 2021 the Formula 1 Heineken Dutch GP at Zandvoort has quickly established itself as a highlight of the season.

Dutch Grand Prix entertainment

And there are many good reasons why it has quickly become a must-see event for fans.

Propelled by the success of local hero Max Verstappen, the event features a highly charged atmosphere, with every seat filled and music pumping through the speakers in between the racing action.

Fans are looked after and kept entertained throughout the day, with the seaside setting adding to the sense of fun. It truly is an event “Like No Other”, as the race’s slogan proclaims, with 11 top national artists performing on stages, enhancing the festive atmosphere in the Arena area and the F1 Fanzone long after the grand prix itself has finished.

In addition various other activities are being held in the F1 Fanzone, including a tyre changing competition and virtual racing. Fans can also hop onto a Ferris wheel to enjoy an overview of the track.

Some observers were sceptical when Zandvoort’s return to the F1 calendar was announced, given that it is a relatively small venue with restricted access by road.

However the organisers pulled out all the stops to ensure that the first race in 2021 – a year late because of COVID, and still featuring a restricted crowd – was a big hit.

"This is our 36th year, but we had a pause of 36 years,” says Dutch GP director Imre van Leeuwen, one of the key players behind the race. “But we could start with a blank sheet. And that was a big advantage for us. So we had the blank sheet on the mobility plan, but also a blank sheet on the entertainment.

"We tried to create a full day programme. The race content is more or less fixed, and of course, the race is the most important part.

“But from early morning, 8am until the last fan leaves, we’ve tried to create a full event instead of only a race, and to create a great atmosphere for the fans, and give them value for money.

“We're a small circuit, not too many access roads. The entertainment programme is not only there to entertain the fan, but also to entertain the fan so he or she stays longer or comes earlier, which gives less stress on the mobility plan.

“So there were different objectives to invest in the entertainment programme. And we wanted to create the vibe that fans not only from Holland, but also from other parts of the world, are willing to come to Zandvoort.”

DJ La Fuente performing during the Dutch Grand Prix
Emma Heesters performing during the Dutch Grand Prix
Fans form the Dutch colours in a grandstand
Dutch Grand Prix entertainment
Dutch Grand Prix entertainment

Accessibility is a key issue for the Zandvoort event, and prior to the first race a lot of planning went into making getting to and from the track as efficient and as green a process as possible.

“Fans don't come by car to our race,” says Van Leeuwen. “They can use parking places, but then the last 5-10km, they have to come by bike, by bus or by train. We don't have any traffic jams because there's no traffic!”

It’s not easy to pack a full crowd into the space that Zandvoort occupies, and a lot of thought went into making the best use of the space and existing facilities.

“We have a small circuit, we felt that it's important to use the full capacity of the track and the grandstands and the fan zones to spread the fans out,” says van Leeuwen. “We see the track as a stage, we really use the track, not only for the race. We invested heavily in LED screens, in sound systems, so that fans can really follow the race, but also can see the performances on the stages.

“I think we are one of the first who now have two stages around the track. We have the Arena part around Turn 11, 12, 13. We have almost 30,000 fans there around the stage. And during the day, we have presenters and DJs to activate the crowds, with kiss cams, with waves, things like that.

“And then in between the racing we have some national performers like bands to entertain the crowds. I think also it's the Dutch approach. When we organise a sporting event in Holland we always try to create more of festival vibe around it!

“Alongside F1’s usual Track TV, we created our own Event TV programme for our screens. We said to F1 we sell the tickets to the fans, so they're our clients, and we have to entertain and perform to them, and we also want to bring in local flavour and local elements. And that's really worked out well.”

Music is a big element within the Zandvoort experience, not least the national anthem, which is of course a key part of the official pre-race activities.

“The first year we had Davina Michelle, very well known in Holland, a beautiful voice and now working on her international career,” says van Leeuwen. “But before the national anthem elements we brought in Armin van Buuren, and Armin and Davina created a performance that worked out really well.

“Last year we had global superstar Afrojack, and this year we will bring in Andre Rieu, he's one of the Netherlands’ biggest international artists. He's known as the ‘King of Waltz’. It's not only about the DJs, Andre and his choir will give an amazing performance of the national anthem. We try to bring it to a higher level.”

Zandvoort’s clear priority is to involve the spectators as much as possible over the course of the weekend.

"What's great for the fan, but also for the footage is that we want, is that we involve the crowds in the grandstands,” says van Leeuwen. “You might have seen the national flag on the main straight.

“We practice that activity, and fans go crazy before the race. It's completely clear that's Holland, because it's the national flag.

“So now also on the Friday and the Saturday we are creating such moments to really work with the crowds, really get them involved, instead of only being a fan and watching the entertainment that we provide. We really would like to create an atmosphere where they are a part of the event.”

Van Leeuwen stresses that it’s not just about the Dutch fans and their loyal support for Max Verstappen. Overseas visitors are made as welcome as possible.

“In Holland we have our King’s Day celebration, and everybody wears orange, but also people from other countries visit that day, because it's our traditional way to celebrate. Of course, we are proud to be Dutch, but for Spanish or Italian people or a family from abroad it's also fun to be part of it.

“We are not pushing Max, we're there for everybody, we treat all the drivers equally, we do our best for everybody. We are very open. And of course, in our own way, our strong point is that a fan can be part of the entertainment.”

The event distinguishes itself by offering entertainment not only on the track but also via 15 large screens with sound, which represents the highest screen density per metre of any F1 circuit.

A range of festivities for all ages and lively performances by popular Dutch artists starts on Friday. Qualifying on Saturday includes an activity allowing fans to compete virtually against local hero Verstappen.

Sunday features pre-race and post-race shows, highlighted by Andre Rieu and DJ La Fuente’s distinct musical contributions.

Van Leeuwen points out that Zandvoort is a great destination for overseas visitors, who can enjoy the town itself or base themselves in Amsterdam and commute from there.

"I think one of the advantages or strong points of our race is that we are at the beach, and it's a tourist destination,” he says. “If you come in on Wednesday, with your family or your friends, you can go to a beach club. At the end of the race on Sunday you can also go to a beach club and have dinner.

“We're not a city race, but we are very close to a town with lots of clubs, restaurants and hotels. And we are only 50 minutes away from Amsterdam, and of course, that's an attractive capital. So we have coast, and we city. And Haarlem is a nice town, typical Dutch style, and it's a little bit more intimate.

“For the international fan, besides the race, we have a lot to offer. It's very accessible by train, very accessible by bus. Or you can stay nearby in a hotel or at the campsite."

Van Leeuwen stresses that Zandvoort will always try to improve the fan experience, although to be fair the track set such a high bar in 2021 and 2022 that it won’t be an easy task.

“I think because of the blank sheet we could create a great event,” he says. “There are ways to bring up the general level of event delivery a little bit higher, step-by-step. And of course, like in racing, to find every last tenth of a second is more difficult! I don't expect major changes, I think we’ll just have to keep on working hard.”

The Dutch Grand Prix is an experience like no other. Tune in here and catch the live action of the Formula 1 Heineken Dutch Grand Prix!

Popular artists Flemming, DJ La Fuente, André Rieu and Emma Heesters

Popular artists Flemming, DJ La Fuente, André Rieu and Emma Heesters

Photo by: Dutch Grand Prix

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