Fresh from the season re-starting in Belgium it’s straight on to the Netherlands for what is sure to be a lively race weekend given the atmosphere a year ago. And there’s plenty happening on and off track as we he head into September so here are some of the topics we expect to see making headlines during the visit to Zandvoort…
1. Oscar Piastri
Well this topic certainly hasn’t gone away! But the story is moving on this week after the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board (CRB) met on Monday to try and work out whether Piastri has a valid contract with Alpine or McLaren for 2023.
The CRB could well take a few days to deliberate and discuss the matter with the two teams, and at the time of writing there has been no decision communicated since the meeting, but Piastri is at least getting closer to knowing where his future in Formula 1 lies and who he is meant to be racing for next season.
If we don’t get an outcome ahead of the weekend then it’ll be a major talking point trying to understand what the hold-up is, suggesting there are some complex areas of dispute that prevent a clear decision being made. And if we do have an answer then there is likely to be one happy and one frustrated team, with the latter needing to fill a vacancy in their driver line-up for next year.
2. New names in the driver market
Piastri’s situation remains a central aspect of the wider driver market, meaning it was in limbo over the past week with everyone waiting for the CRB meeting to take place. But with uncertainty over who might need to sign another driver for 2023, plenty of preliminary discussions have been taking place to sound out who might be available.
The latest names to enter the rumour mill over the weekend were Pierre Gasly and Colton Herta, with the former potentially interesting Alpine as an option to create an all-French line-up alongside Esteban Ocon.
Of course, if Alpine did make such a move then Red Bull would need to have a replacement lined up at AlphaTauri, which is where IndyCar racer Herta could come into the frame. At this time of year, with so many attractive seats still unconfirmed for next season, there are almost certainly going to be even more names thrown into the mix over the coming days and weeks.
3. Red Bull’s performance
In a complete U-turn from how we’re normally looking at races – with the potential for three teams to be in the mix for victory – the question this weekend has to be if Red Bull will continue the stunning form that saw them dominate at Spa-Francorchamps.
Max Verstappen was in a league of his own in Belgium, out-qualifying the rest of the field by over 0.6s – despite just one Q3 run – and then climbing through from 14th on the grid with consummate ease to win by nearly 20 seconds. It was a dominant display that left the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes scratching their heads.
All of the front-running teams highlighted the track characteristics at Spa as one of the reasons why Red Bull might have had such an advantage, with Verstappen thinking it suited his car “perfectly”. Zandvoort is a very different layout that could well see the field closing up once again, but it’s hard to shake the impression that Red Bull have made a clear step forward compared to their rivals and are going to set a high benchmark again this weekend.
Focus will be high at both Ferrari and Mercedes to put up a much stronger challenge, and qualifying could be a big factor. Carlos Sainz started on pole in Spa after Verstappen’s grid penalty and while he was unable to hold off the Red Bulls there, it’s not as easy to overtake at Zandvoort.
4. Audi incoming
There might have been a huge amount of focus on the driver market during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, but some other big news took centre stage on Friday when Audi confirmed they will be entering Formula 1 as a power unit supplier in 2026.
It’s a ringing endorsement for the new power unit regulations that were recently finalised, providing an attractive technological platform for Audi even though they are aiming to go fully electric with their road car range by 2033.
The announcement also included details about its plans for not only building the power unit but also becoming significantly involved with a team – expected to be Sauber – with the identity of the future partner to be revealed before the end of this year.
Amid all of the excitement of Audi’s arrival, there were also mentions from the two executives – Audi AG Chairman Markus Duesmann and Board Member for Technical Development Oliver Hoffman – about Porsche’s plans to enter the sport in some form, too. Such is the speed that F1 storylines move at, the focus will soon turn to when there might be further news from Porsche too.
5. A party atmosphere
One of the highlights of 2021 from an off-track point of view was the atmosphere at Zandvoort as Formula 1 finally returned to the Netherlands after an absence of more than 35 years. That return had been delayed even further by the COVID-19 pandemic, and so the Dutch were ready to put on a show.
A huge crowd that was almost exclusively dressed in orange partied at the circuit pretty much from Thursday through to Sunday night, and on a track that features plenty of close grandstands it made for a very impressive sight.
You can bet the fans are going to want to raise the bar even higher this year as they welcome back their home hero as a world champion for the first time, and Verstappen’s huge lead in the drivers’ championship is certainly not going to dampen that atmosphere over the weekend.