A banner flew over the head in support of Lewis Hamilton. ‘7 X WDC’, it wrote of the Englishman’s success story. ‘Just sweet. #TeamLH.’
The message was arranged by a fan who paid £1,600 for the plane, a nice gesture but a lonely one in the North Sea resort of Zandvoort, which is strictly enemy territory for this weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen is the sporting idol of the Netherlands and his fans cram the coastal town, with a population of normally 17,000 but with 70,000 visitors a day.
British driver Lewis Hamilton’s duel with Dutchman Max Verstappen was fascinating
However, a fan decided to share his support for Hamilton by paying for a banner (above) to fly over our heads that read ‘7 X WDC’
The train timetable has been changed with a special service running every six minutes from Amsterdam Central to the local station, 40 kilometers away, which hasn’t been this excited since it opened in 1881.
A stream of orange shirts then heads to the famous old track to see the driver whose aggressive racing style and uncomplicated attitude play perfectly with his audience.
This man of the people will be honored by his king when Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima walk into the paddock before Sunday’s race to say hello. It’s just the kind of hoopla where Verstappen would shrug.
Another unexpected caller will be his father Jos, a former team-mate of Michael Schumacher at Benetton, who had sworn to stay away in a conscious effort to avoid the uproar. But he changed his mind and was due to travel here last night to witness this piece of family history.
Hamilton has promised to turn the booing into motivation – as he did in Brazil in 2007 and 2008
Meanwhile, his son finds himself at the center of attention in a remote and secret hideout. He took a scooter into the paddock on Friday, put on his helmet, position himself as inconspicuously as possible and make his journey as fast as possible.
The big question is which of Lewis and Max will cope better with the contrasting pressures they are each under?
Hamilton has promised to turn the booing into motivation. He has experienced similar animosity before, in Brazil in 2007 and 2008, when whistles rained straight from the stands at the start as the home crowd cheered for Felipe Massa.
As for Verstappen, he tasted a taste of the admiration he will receive here in Belgium this past weekend, as the diehards stayed through the endless drizzle to watch his ‘victory’ in the delayed two-lap farce.
Christian Horner, his Red Bull team principal, said: “Max keeps himself very much to himself. I think he likes to race at home, but he treats it like any other Grand Prix.
“His preparation is the same, so I don’t think he feels the pressure. But the level of sport he has is fantastic.’
Verstappen is the sporty idol of the Netherlands and his fans cram the coastal town
Verstappen got a taste of the admiration he will receive in Belgium, as the diehards stayed through the endless drizzle to watch his ‘victory’ in the two-lap deferred farce
On Friday, the advantage was Verstappen as Hamilton’s practice plans were disrupted by an engine failure that left him missing most of the afternoon session.
The real test of the men’s nerves comes Sunday on the 2.65-mile, 15-turn partially paved course. Overtaking opportunities are expected to be scarce, but that is an unproven suspicion until the lights go out as this is Formula 1’s first visit to the area in 36 years. Hamilton, who leads the championship by three points, was seven months old at the time.
The plot is, of course, thickened by the pair’s 180-mph smash at Silverstone — the last time they raced each other at close quarters.
In many ways, this is the sequel to that Copse clash, where a few square feet wasn’t big enough for both of them.
Stefano Domenicali, F1’s chief executive, has called the duel a ‘gift for F1’. But he has also spoken to the two fighters since the meeting that left Verstappen in hospital with a concussion and made it clear he wants them to race cleanly.
Christian Horner, his Red Bull team principal, said: ‘Max keeps himself very much to himself’
Formula 1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali (above) has called the duel a ‘gift for F1’
“It’s always easy to blame, but I’m not the referee,” said Ferrari’s former Italian team boss.
“In my position, the first thing I was interested in was that Max was okay. But I told them to make sure we keep the fight at the right level.
“I know them both very well and with my responsibility, experience and my relationship with them I felt it was natural for me to do that. I’m not a teacher and they are the best drivers, but it’s good that we talk.
“After the accident, they both understood that the game they are going to play until the end of the season will be very tense, not only technically but also mentally, and it’s a matter of being the one who doesn’t want to give. one centimeter up. Those of us who love Formula 1 love this approach.”
Will the atmosphere here point to Hamilton at fault, when the volume of booing he received after Silverstone in Hungary and Spa is significantly increased?
“No,” Domenicali said. “The effect on Lewis is the other way around. The more he feels the pressure of a fight, the more he thrives.
“Of course I would like to see cheers, but if cheers are part of the fight between these two drivers, then so be it. I’m really happy we got this gift, and if you ask me my dream it would be for a season decider in Abu Dhabi.”