The white and black racecar of Victor Martins takes the high line through Zandvoort's banked left-hander, Turn 3. The right-rear wheel of the car is touching the white line demarcating the edge of the circuit. There is Aramco signage surrounding the track on the wall and on the asphalt.

The unique physical challenge of Zandvoort: ‘Some people’s arms might be falling off’

The Circuit Zandvoort in the northwest of the Netherlands earns many comparisons to a roller-coaster because of the undulating, flowing path the 4.259-kilometre circuit traces in the sand dunes. Drivers get little time to rest on the main straight, which is flanked by long-radius corners, and the steep banking at Turn 3 in particular challenges the drivers’ racing intelligence and physical fitness like few other turns on the calendar.

By Michael McClure

Several alterations were made to Zandvoort ahead of its return to the calendar last season, most notably to Turn 3. The medium-speed left-hander in Sector 1 was previously flat, but it has been converted to a corner banked at 19 degrees. This creates a bowl-like shape through which drivers take nontraditional lines, usually going high into the corner to carry more speed.

F1 Feeder Series spoke to several drivers in the FIA Formula 3 Championship over the weekend about how they’ve navigated the corner and the challenges it presents.

A bumpy ride

Prema’s Jak Crawford mentioned that the bumps in Turn 3 posed a challenge to drivers, as evidenced by the replays of cars bouncing over the kerb as the banking flattened.

“It’s one of the most interesting corners on the calendar for sure, one where you don’t really take an apex. You go on the high line. It’s a weird corner. You just have to really release the brake and use the banking to your advantage. It can be difficult on the exit with some bumps, but otherwise it’s quite a fun corner.”

It’s one of the most interesting corners on the calendar for sure, one where you don’t really take an apex

Jak Crawford on Zandvoort’s Turn 3

F1 Feeder Series also learned that track works had been taking place at Zandvoort until last week to smooth out the bumps, some of which were still visible on the entry to the corner.

Time loss

Turn 3, or John Hugenholtzbocht, is crucial because of the stretch of race track that follows – Turns 4, 5 and 6 essentially comprise a high-speed straight on which drivers go nearly flat out. That brings them to the long right-hander at Turn 7, which tightens in radius as the turn progresses and slopes downward.

Time loss in Turn 3 is crucial, as Feature Race pole-sitter Zane Maloney and second-placed Victor Martins explained.

“It’s very difficult, obviously, with the banking,” Maloney said. “You can lose half a tenth to one tenth quite easily doing nothing different, so it’s a very difficult corner. I’m sure that in the race, some people’s arms might be falling off.”

“You can easily lose a tenth there in [qualifying],” Martins explained. “On the line, I will say it’s quite the same for everyone. I mean, you see the car going there, everyone goes there, and you all do the same after. It’s the approach on how you brake late, how you push into the entry and how well you are on throttle – maybe also the gears that you use. In the end, it’s all we have. Every team has experience from last year, so we … know what to do, and then we just adapt it in the session.”

A relentless roller-coaster

A lap of Zandvoort might be challenging to nail in practice and qualifying, but there’s an added difficulty in race conditions: driver fatigue. The 21-lap Sprint Race earlier on Saturday had no stoppages, so drivers had no time to rest their arms. The Feature Race on Sunday is slated to be 26 laps long for an even more physical challenge if it takes place entirely under green-flag running.

ART Grand Prix’s Juan Manuel Correa, who returned to the podium in the F3 Sprint Race for the first time since his career-altering accident in 2019, said that he was thinking about the physicality for the latter half of the race, especially as his tyres began to degrade.

There was quite a bit of deg, and that makes the steering wheel harder, especially when it’s rear deg

Juan Manuel Correa

“It was tough. We were speaking about it in the cooldown room. First of all, it was a race without VSCs or safety cars, which is not typical here in Zandvoort, and that makes it harder because you have to push the whole race.

“Second of all, there was quite a bit of deg, and that makes the steering wheel harder, especially when it’s rear deg. So I would say from Lap 10 onwards, I was thinking about it, and I knew that everybody was in the same boat. It will make it interesting tomorrow for the Feature Race. It’s [five] laps longer than today, so if there are no safety cars, it will definitely be a factor.”

Caio Collet exits Turn 3 in the Sprint Race | Credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Sprint Race winner Caio Collet said that race management played a key role in having enough energy to last all 21 laps.

“I was trying to control a bit the gap to Juan and choosing the laps that I was going to push a bit more or a bit less to save a bit myself and the tyres,” he explained. “I think it worked quite well. It’s a tough track, especially Sector 1 – it’s really, really hard, but we need to be ready for the Feature Race tomorrow.”

Multiple tough corners

Turn 3 may be the most memorable corner at Zandvoort, but there are others that also challenge drivers. The aforementioned Turn 7’s long radius also provides an arm workout, as does Turn 14, which has had additional banking of its own implemented ahead of the return of the Dutch Grand Prix in 2020. Though taken more slowly, Turns 1, 10 and 12 also have rounded profiles that require longer steering inputs from drivers.

Formula 1 is using DRS through Turn 14, but F2 and F3 are not for safety reasons. Sprint Race third-place finisher Zak O’Sullivan alluded to the existing physical difficulty of the final corner, an issue that would have been exacerbated with additional speed.

“The problem is less neck and all arms, to be honest. Turn 3 and also a bit Turns 7 and 14 are super tricky. Throughout the race, I had a bit of a balance issue, and obviously that doesn’t help the arms,” he said. “The Feature Race will be a bit of a struggle tomorrow.”

Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd

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