André Maes, the long time promoter of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, has told the national newspaper La Dernière Heure that the event has already sold 70,000 three-day tickets, something that he has not seen since the glory days of Michael Schumacher back in 2001 and 2002, when legions of German fans would stream across the border to Spa, following their hero, who had huge support in the region around Kerpen, the town where he grew up. This means that with sales in the days leading up to the race, plus all the other people associated with the event, there are likely to be in the region of 85,000 people brought to the region for the race. This will delight the regional government of Wallonia which has to support the event and cover its losses each year. It remains to be seen whether the event will actually make a profit, but that is still a possibility.
The reason for the hike in ticket sales is very clear: Max Verstappen. The recent German Grand Prix saw large numbers of Dutch fans in the grandstands at Hockenheim, having driven the 250 or so miles from their homeland to watch their hero in action. Spa is much closer to the Netherlands, the nearest point to Spa being only around 45 miles from Spa, meaning that some of the visitors will be able to return home each day. Many others will camp at the circuit, which is probably the best option for fans as there is a fairly limited supply of hotels in the immediate vicinity of the circuit, beyond the ones popular with F1 people in Spa, Malmédy and Stavelot. The organisers at Spa expect that there will be around 20,000 Dutch fans in the crowd this year and says that all the grandstands have been sold out and only general admission tickets remain. Spa is also a popular venue for British fans, who drive across from the UK for the event, which is held on a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK, which means that they have Monday to return home.
Verstappen’s rise has led to interest in reviving the Dutch Grand Prix, which has not been held since 1985, but was a regular fixture on the F1 calendar for more than 30 years. It is clear that there are problems hosting such a big event at Zandvoort, the traditional home of the race, located in the sand dunes next to the North Sea, near Haarlem. The track would need considerable work and vehicular access would need to be restricted. Zandvoort is well-served by trains from Haarlem and Amsterdam, the latter being only half an hour away. However, the big problem is to find a way to raise the fees required to pay for such an event, with the circuit admitting that it cannot do much without government aid. The government has been pushing austerity measures in recent years, in an effort to improve public finances but for the last 18 months the economy has been growing as confidence returns. One alternative that has been put forward is to host a Grand Prix at the TT Circuit Assen, in the north of the country. The track, a shortened permanent version of a celebrated motorcycle road race circuit, hosts the Dutch round of the MotoGP series and has a contract to continue to do so until 2026. The track would need some modification for F1 but it would cost a great deal less than trying to revive Zandvoort. The Assen organisers say that they are interested if financial arrangements can be put in place.
The Belgian GP at Spa will,incidentally, have increased security with traffic and pedestrians no longer mixing in the area around La Source, as a precaution following the Nice attack in July. There will also be more bag inspections.