KNUTSON: Formula One’s Return To The Netherlands

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Dan Knutson.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Formula One is returning to the Netherlands next year as the Dutch Grand Prix makes its first appearance since 1985. That is a fact.

Formula One is returning to Rio de Janeiro, which will host the Brazilian Grand Prix for the first time since 1989. That is pure fantasy.

Starting with the good news — given the legions of Dutch fans that now follow their idol Max Verstappen around the world, it was inevitable that the Dutch Grand Prix had a good chance of getting back on the calendar. And now the event has a confirmed three-year contract at the Zandvoort circuit.

“It’s just an iconic, historic track” Verstappen said. “I have raced there before with F-3 and it was a lot of fun. I compare the track a little bit with Suzuka because it’s designed by the same person (Dutchman John “Hans” Hugenholtz), so I can understand that the characteristics are a bit similar. It’s a pretty quick track and it’s always good and exciting to have new ones on the calendar. I’ve done a few laps and doughnuts in an F-1 car there too and the track was actually pretty challenging because you have a few banked corners, some places are very narrow and there’s no runoff. It’s very cool, and with no runoff, it’s quite hard to find the limit. On some other tracks it’s a bit easier but that also makes it more exciting.”

The 13-turn 2.676-mile Zandvoort circuit is definitely old school – fast, narrow and dangerous. It is also a track that is very difficult on which to overtake on. If there was no passing in the Formula 3 race there, what hope is there for the wider F-1 cars?

But while the actual racing might not be good, the race weekend will be fun and have a great atmosphere with all the Dutch fans there wearing “Dutch orange.”

I went to the Dutch Grand Prix in 1984 and ’85, in my early days of covering F-1 for SPEED SPORT, and really enjoyed it. And I am looking forward to going back next year.

I also covered the Brazilian Grand Prix from 1984 through ’89 when the race was held outside of Rio de Janeiro at the Autodromo Internacional Nelson Piquet, better known by the marvelous name Jacarepaguá, which is the local neighborhood. Since then the race has been staged at the Interlagos track in Sao Paulo.

But in May, with much fanfare, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro signed an agreement with Rio de Janeiro’s mayor and governor for a F-1 track to be built on the outskirts of the city. They announced this new track would host the Brazilian Grand Prix from 2020 onward. It was also stated that no government money would fund the project. The entire track and facility will be funded by private investors.

The cost of building the facility from scratch is said to be $235 million. The fees that the Formula One Group/Liberty charges a country to host a grand prix vary, but the group of private investors headed by J.R. Pereira that will fund the entire Rio project would have to find about $25 million annually.

The general idea about investing is to make money, and F-1 races to not make a lot of money, if any at all, for the local promoter. So how will investors recoup the original $235 million, plus the annual $25 million? And then make a profit on top of that? This is why most F-1 races these days require government funding. Pereira says the track will make money by selling 100,000 to 130,000 grandstand seats annually.

But the Sao Paulo/Interlagos race organizers have a firm contract for the grand prix for 2020. Plus they have stated they want to renew that contract. It is true the Interlagos organizers have had some difficulties paying the fee for the grand prix, but then they also already have a track that is paid for and does not have to be built like the one in Rio.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations of the Formula 1 Group, has stated that Sao Paulo has a contract for the Brazilian Grand Prix for 2020. But he also said there are talks with the Rio de Janeiro organizers.

A grand prix in Rio? I’ll believe it when I see it.