The power of a driver

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.

52 thoughts on “The power of a driver

  1. Hi Joe, please don’t forget the impact of a certain Stoffel Vandoorne for the Belgian F1 fans he is a super talent with a lot of fans who can’t wait that Ron announces him as the next McLaren pilot. We love Jenson but he’ll be ok at Williams.

    1. Filip, I’d like to see Vandoorne in a Sauber or something for a year or two first. Jenson deserves to drive that McLaren Honda once it finally gets good, having endured all the disappointments of recent years and Ron’s clumsy handling of contract negotiations.

  2. Small correction
    “That the event has already sold 70,000 three-day tickets, something that he has not seen since the glory days of Jos Verstappen back in 2000 and 2001”

    1. I’m pretty sure Joe means Michael Schumacher . Jos was driving an Arrows in 2000 and 2001, so wasn’t exactly fighting for the top step of the podium. As a Jos fan, I’m sad to say that unfortunately he didn’t really ever seem to be fighting for the podium as much as his talent deserved.

  3. Whilst the national pulling power of certain drivers is undeniable it is not the only way to grab huge crowds. Both the German and Czech MotoGP events draw huge crowds without having huge stars capable of winning in the race. And whilst on the subject huge congratulations to Cal Crutchlow on being the first Brit in 35 years to win a top flight MotoGP race last weekend.

    1. Ditto for huge Cal congratulations.

      At every MotoGP, there are yellow grandstands of Rossi supporters. They stay for the race. I’ve been to events where fans for other racers stalked off home after the favoured one departed the race.

      I hope I am right in believing that Rossi fans love the sport more than Rossi. In the last four races, three winners hadn’t won a race before. When last did F1 have three new winners in a season?

      MotoGP is changing but Cal Crutchlow couldn’t have won without rule changes that put him on a great bike.

  4. I hate to be negative having been to and enjoyed Zandvoort for GPs back in the day, but big investment in a new Dutch GP venues like Assen or even Zandvoort would probably pay off only as long as there’s a Max Verstappen around, that’s alot of risk with just one egg in the basket. Just look at the doo-doo that the German GP is in after the Schumacher glory days.

    1. that’s why Assen is the best bet anyways….as it also has the MotoGP and I believe still has Superbike too, so they wouldn’t have one egg with Max in F1….as a Dutchie I would prefer Assen too, although I don’t see it happening soon….Zandvoort to me is out of the question all together…complete infrastructure to the track needs to be revised greatly too….all those visitors can’t all come by train….so Zandvoort would require way too much investment…

  5. Based on the title, I had thought this was going to be an article continuing the discussion in GP+ about Seb’s level of influence in Ferrari and overriding the pit crew on strategy calls.

    But it is great to see F1 capturing the interest of a nation based on an exciting young talent.

  6. Strange, this link between adulation and nationality. Personally, and I think i am not alone in this, it never occurs to me to dwell on which country the driver calls his fatherland.

    Perhaps more than other sports, F1 is so much a hotch potch of all nationalities mixed together, the selection of drivers by teams is so far away from questions of where a driver was born.

    Even the flag waving by fans in the stands is done more for identifying the driver in question and much less for celebrating his nation. If they wave white flags with blue crosses for example, it is because their hero is Kimi, etc, etc.

    It is mostly in the press that this aspect is over-emphasised, and this is for reasons to do with journalism rather than F1. I’m hoping I’m right on all this…

    1. Nope, you are wrong, in the main, and sadly in my opinion. Misplaced nationalism is alive, well and appearing to gain some traction if the recent brexit fiasco is anything to go by.
      I agree though that F1 is one of the few sports were the large mainstay of fans are appreciative of drivers/teams for reasons other than where they were born or which country their mother has a passport for.

    2. I would love to believe that F1 fans were not nationalistic but many years ago when Mansell and Senna were fighting for the lead of the British GP I was dismayed with the booing that accompanied Senna’s overtakes. A long long way from the “ideals” espoused for Brooklands and certainly not something that I enjoyed seeing or hearing.

      1. I think the problem you refer to there Richard Piers, was that the 1980’s saw the beginnings of F1 being ” removed ” from Motorsport in general, and the encouragement of new ” Fans ” who were not in the least interested in Motorsport, but were attracted to F1 as a Sport on its own. Something that was personified by ” Mansell Mania “. That aspect wasn’t Nigel’s fault, and it brought in lots of bums on seats to Silverstone, but these type of spectators are not rooted in the Sport, and like a huge number of German Schumacher supporters, when the star attraction retires, most of the followers go as well.
        I’ve argued for years that for F1 to survive, requires it to have a supporting pyramid of thriving motorsports beneath it. As was the case in the past with FF1600, FF2000, F3, F5000, FAtlantic,F2 etc, including Saloons and WEC. Just to promote F1, and drag kids up straight from Karts to F1, is a very short termist management strategy, and ultimately it won’t work.
        This can be seen in the dwindling crowds and tv figures, as you have a ” Fan “, but that Fan is only interested in F1, probably doesn’t know of other motorsport as F1 is the only thing plugged. I’m sure i’m not alone in having been to many race meetings including GP events, and the main event has been a tad boring, but the support events were absolutely cracking! F1 has cast aside the proper race card, and that damages the sport.
        What is needed is to cultivate the hard core race fan. The man or woman who follows it all, karts, tintops, single seater junior classes, Clubs,Nationals,Internationals, Indycar, WRC, MotoGP, WSB etc etc, and who when they have kids, then brings their kids out as well. Without a proper strategy, and financial input from the FIA & F1, i feel that motorsport will be lucky to survive another 20 years or so. That may not affect me, but i’d feel sadness for the loss for others, of the profound thrills and joys of Motorsport, that can be projected so well to Fans.

  7. The thought of all those Dutch people flocking to Spa to see a Belgian-born driver makes me smile.

    The Olympics proved that vicarious patriotism is alive and well, but it has never made any sense to me.

        1. A place of birth does not necessarily define nationality. There are plenty of examples. In any case, Verstappen has chosen to be Dutch and must under their rules revoke all other nationalities so he is Dutch, not Belgian.

          1. I agree with all of that, but the fact Max can ‘chose’ one thing which triggers a certain nationalistic fan reaction, rather than ‘choosing’ another which does not proves to me it is all a bit silly.

            I have never supported a Sportsman just because they happen to come from the UK. I know plenty do, it just seems so arbitrary to me.

            I adore Max because he is fast, cheeky, controversial and likes passing other drivers. Who cares what his passport says compared to that?

          2. Belgium used to be part of the Netherlands and part of it has the same language, so we dutch people see Belgium as close relatives.

            1. And once upon a time you were all part of France and before that Spain etc etc.
              My experience is that you are all surprisingly different in character, though I think that also applies between north and south Belgium.
              Interesting that 100 years or so ago the north was dependant upon the south that had the riches of coal and steel and did not like being ” robbed”, now the shoe is on the other foot.
              None liked the Brits who off loaded a redundant member of the royal family.
              The family personally “bought” the Congo that provided huge riches and was hugely abused with the problems that remain to this day.
              And so on and so on.

              1. Of course you’re right, I was jesting a little. But the Netherlands and Belgium share the same history and partly the same language which counts for something at least.

      1. And Nico is the complete opposite of Max – Finnish father, lives in Monaco but German born. He also holds passports for both Finland and Germany if I’m not mistaken.

  8. Security will be the prime at Belgium.
    Hopefully the Religious Dimwitt Bandits and other Political Terror merchants will stay clear of Spa. Going to be a good weekend . Assume Lewis will take the engine penalty at Monza and not Spa. Max has come for a lot of criticism from Kimi and other drivers for his micro zig zags before making the obvious defensive move. Hopefully they’ll be no more Rosberg driving other cars off the track moments !!

  9. So 70k 3-day tickets are already sold, 85k people are likely to show up… for the whole weekend overall? On that huge track given all these factors?

    It’s hardly a success story if one considers MotoGP pulling an average 150k weekend crowd for each race in 2015.

  10. … now if the racing would only live up to the ticket sales and the iconic reputation of Spa .

  11. I love Spa, it’s for the die-hards. So difficult to get to. Such a great track.Sad I’m not there this year.

    Makes sense to stop traffic getting to far down the hill, so many people in a relatively tight space.

  12. I would love for F1 to return to Zandvoort, but it would need a complete rebuild to work, the track needs to be widened, run off areas, pit complex, etc. etc. I think it would ruin the track t.b.h. In it’s current state it would be impossible to overtake, it would be much like Hungary. Frankly, I don’t see it happen.

    As for Assen: having seen the Indycar race a couple of years ago made it clear that is not very good for car racing, being to narrow, and with banked corners clearly made for motorcycles, not cars. Also it is quite a long way from Amsterdam and other big cities.

    Perhaps a street race, or a semi permanent track in the area of Rotterdam could be built and would cost less.

    1. I too love visiting Zandvoort, more recently helping out a pal who races in historic meetings. The whole intimacy of the pit/paddock area would be destroyed if the F1 circus demanded the necessary “improvements” and I have no doubt Jimmy’s bar would be gone forever!

      A street race in Rotterdam sounds like an excellent idea to me and could tap into the considerable commercial interest in the city?

      1. Much as I too would like a GP in the Netherlands again, Zandvoort is never going to happen again. The best attended venue is the Historic GP (one weekend after the Belgium GP, can I recommend this here, Joe?), but it’s hard enough to balance the financials for them.
        Also about Assen I have serious doubts, Even a paddock as large as theirs will not fit all GP teams and the supporting races.
        No, we’ll have to do with Baku, Bahrain, Jakarta, Aleppo, any country/town willing to through enough money at Bernie…

  13. Hi Joe… diff topic all together
    I read about d pirelli tyre testing with top 3 teams..don’t u think it’s unfair for other teams who r not part of these test
    I understand other teams don’t want to spend on these test or don’t have money to spend…but why can’t pirelli do independent testing ..and share d data with all teams
    would like to know ur opinion

  14. Jacques Villeneuve had a huge impact on the popularity of F1 in Montreal. Attendance was steadily falling until Jacques arrived on the scene. And it’s maintained it’s levels after he left.

  15. Max’s name would been so much better if Will Power were his father instead,

    I’ll get my coat.

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