A banner flew overhead in support of Lewis Hamilton. ‘7 X WDC,’ it recorded of the Englishman’s record of success. ‘Simply lovely. #TeamLH.’
The message was arranged by a fan who paid £1,600 for the plane, a nice gesture but a lonely one at the North Sea resort of Zandvoort that is strictly enemy territory for this weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen is the sporting idol of Holland and his fans are cramming the coastal town, population normally 17,000 but swelled by 70,000 visitors a day.
British driver Lewis Hamilton’s duel with Holland’s Max Verstappen has been engrossing
However, one fan decided to share his support for Hamilton by paying for a banner (above) to fly overhead saying ‘7 X WDC’
The train timetable has been altered with a special service running every six minutes from Amsterdam Central to the local station 25 miles away that has not seen excitement like this since it opened its doors in 1881.
An orange-shirted stream then runs to the famous old track to see the driver whose aggressive racing style and straightforward demeanour play perfectly with his public.
This man of the people will be honoured by his king when Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima call into the paddock to say hello before Sunday’s race. It is just the kind of hoopla at which Verstappen would shrug his shoulders.
Another unexpected caller will be his dad Jos, a former team-mate of Michael Schumacher at Benetton, who had vowed to stay away in a conscious attempt to avoid the clamour. But he changed his mind and was said to be travelling here last night to witness this slice of family history.
Hamilton has promised to turn the boos into motivation – like he did in Brazil in 2007 and 2008
Meanwhile, his son at the centre of the focus is staying at a secluded and secret hideaway. He took a scooter into the paddock on Friday, his helmet on, keeping as low a profile as possible, making his journey as fast as he could.
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 boos into motivation. He has experienced similar hostility before, in Brazil in 2007 and 2008, when whistles rained down from the stand on the start straight as the home crowd rooted for Felipe Massa.
As for Verstappen, he sampled a taste of the adulation he will receive here at Belgium last weekend, when the diehards stayed on through the endless drizzle to witness 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’s enjoying racing at home but he’s treating it like any other grand prix.
‘His preparation is just the same so I don’t think he realty feels the pressure. But the level of sport he has got is fantastic.’
Verstappen is the sporting idol of Holland and his fans are cramming the coastal town
Verstappen sampled a taste of the adulation he will receive at Belgium, when the diehards stayed on through the endless drizzle to witness his ‘victory’ in the delayed two-lap farce
On Friday it was advantage Verstappen as Hamilton’s practice plans were disturbed by an engine glitch that resulted in him missing most of the afternoon session.
The real test of the men’s nerve will come Sunday on the partially banked 2.65-mile track of 15 corners. Overtaking opportunities are predicted to be scarce but that is unproven conjecture until the lights go out, given this is Formula One’s first visit to the area for 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 180mph smash at Silverstone — the last time they found themselves racing against one another at close quarters.
This is in many ways the sequel of that Copse collision, which was a case of a few square foot not being big enough for the 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 combatants since the coming together that put Verstappen in hospital with concussion and made it clear that he wants them to race cleanly.
Christian Horner, his Red Bull team principal, said: ‘Max keeps himself very much to himself’
Stefano Domenicali (above), Formula One’s chief executive, has called the duel a ‘gift for F1’
‘It is always easy to point the finger of guilt but I am not the referee,’ said the Italian former Ferrari team principal.
‘In my position, the first thing I was interested in was Max being OK. 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 am not a teacher, and they are the best drivers, but it is good that we talk.
‘After the accident both of them understood the game they are going to play until the end of the season will be very tense, not just technically but mentally, too, and it is a matter of being the one who doesn’t want to give up one centimetre. Those of us who love Formula One think this approach is great.’
Is the atmosphere here going to tip Hamilton into a mistake, when the volume of the booing he received post-Silverstone in Hungary and Spa is significantly turned up?
‘No,’ said Domenicali. ‘The effect on Lewis is the other way round. The more he feels the pressure of a battle, the more he thrives.
‘Of course, I would love to see cheering but if booing is part of the fight between these two drivers, then so be it. I am delighted that we have been given this gift, and if you ask me my dream, it would be for a season decider in Abu Dhabi.’