Distance: 4.259 kilometres
The redeveloped Zandvoort is a combination of roller-coaster and racetrack: a narrow ribbon of tarmac swooping and undulating through the surrounding sand dunes at high speed.
To promote overtaking, the redevelopment project has beefed up the banking at key turns. This includes the last corner, which will sit at around 18 degrees — twice as steep as the banking at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway — to allow drivers to take different lines in combat, and race side by side through the bends.
With no recent knowledge of this circuit to build on, the three free practice sessions will be extremely busy as teams and drivers learn the circuit and adjust set-up on the cars to tackle this unique challenge.
The championship picture changed dramatically in the two rounds to the August midseason break. Max Verstappen had led Lewis Hamilton by 33 points on the Sunday morning of the British Grand Prix, but his lead evaporated in two races thanks to two first-lap crashes. Hamilton meanwhile won and finished second to take an eight-point lead into the break.
The Belgian Grand Prix on 29 August was set to be closely contested between the two title protagonists, with Verstappen taking pole in a soaking-wet qualifying, but a downpour on race day forced the cancellation of the race after two laps. The Dutchman was declared victorious but awarded half scores, cutting his deficit to three points.
Expect the unexpected. Circuit Zandvoort is new to everyone, and matching set-ups to the unique demands of the track will be a challenge in the limited three hours of practice.
There’s no real precedent on the calendar for the Dutch track layout. It’s short and punchy like Portugal but with fewer straights, and it’s tight and twisty like Hungary but with faster and more flowing corners. It’s a configuration that will demand healthy levels of downforce, which should best suit Red Bull Racing and its efficient aerodynamic design.
But the unknown factor is how these cars and tyres will handle the aggressive banking for 72 laps. Turn three and the final corner in particular with its Indy-beating banking will put unprecedented stress on the outside tyres and require a novel suspension solution to ensure stability without compromising tyre life.