He liked what he saw at a track hosting a Formula One Grand Prix for the first time since 1985, thanks in no small part to the popularity of Verstappen among Dutch race fans. “Yeah, it was really cool,” Verstappen said after seven laps that had workers in orange high-visibility jackets applauding in the main stand. “I think the track was already very nice to drive before but I think ... the changes they made to the track makes it even more special.”
The Red Bull driver finished third in the championship standings last season behind Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and is hoping to break through the German team's dominance this season.
In the past, overtaking was tough on the old Zandvoort circuit, where Niki Lauda won the last time it hosted a Grand Prix. Adding banking to two turns on the track, which snakes through sand dunes on the North Sea coast west of Amsterdam, should give drivers the chance to pass.
“I think the changes they did to the track they will definitely help for that, but to be honest I’m not thinking about that yet,” Verstappen said. “I think as a team anyway we have to target to try and be first, so we don’t need to overtake.”
Verstappen’s laps at Zandvoort came hours after seven F1 teams co-signed a statement opposing a confidential settlement between Ferrari and governing body FIA following an investigation into the team's engine last season.
The settlement came after questions had been raised by teams and drivers as to whether the Ferrari car's fuel-flow meter was bypassing the regulatory amount of 100 kilograms per hour. They argued that this may have been influencing Ferrari's notably superior speed on long straights, and its run of six straight pole positions.
Verstappen didn’t comment on the teams’ statement but said: “I think in every sport you want to a level playing field.” Another issue hanging over the start of this Formula One season is the coronavirus outbreak.
The Chinese Grand Prix that was scheduled for April 19 in Shanghai has already been postponed due to the outbreak that has its epicenter in China. Verstappen said it is up to the sport’s governing body to decide what measures to take.
“I trust I fully trust them and everything they decide,” he said. “So, yeah, we rely on them and we just wait for all the decisions to be taken by them.” The few hundred orange-clad workers on hand to watch the laps Wednesday were a fraction of the tens of thousands expected to descend on this small seaside town over the race weekend to watch their hero.
Verstappen said he would not let the weight of expectation change the way he prepares and races. “I mean, yeah, there will be a lot of people supporting you,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I will always try my very best at every single Grand Prix. So for me, that doesn't change anything in terms of preparation for this one, but of course, you want to have a good result.”
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