November 19, 2018 / 12:19 PM / 23 days ago

Motor racing- Dutch GP could return as F1 looks to 'Max factor'

LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One is hoping to bring back the Dutch Grand Prix and build on the wave of popularity surrounding Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

FILE PHOTO: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen celebrates at the Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Austria - July 1, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

“We are very interested in racing in Holland,” Sean Bratches, the sport’s commercial managing director, told Reuters at the weekend when asked about a possible return to the Zandvoort circuit that hosted 30 races from 1952 to 1985.

“We are having productive conversations there and I am cautiously optimistic we can do something to surprise and delight fans in that territory and take advantage of the Max factor,” he added.

Local media reports have suggested a deal for 2020 could be on the table.

Verstappen, 21 and seen as a future world champion, has a huge national following as the country’s most successful Formula One driver.

The youngest race winner ever now has five victories to his name, including two this season with Red Bull — with some 20,000 Dutch fans travelling to the team’s home race in Austria, which he won.

The Jumbo Racing Days event at Zandvoort in May, which featured Verstappen and other Red Bull drivers doing demonstration runs, attracted more than 110,000 people.

The circuit, located in sand dunes on the Dutch North Sea coast, first hosted a Formula One championship race in 1952 and has been refurbished since 1985 when Austrian Niki Lauda won the last grand prix there.

HERITAGE CIRCUITS

The return of Zandvoort would alleviate fears about the sport distancing itself from its European past, with other ‘heritage circuits’ facing an uncertain future.

Formula One, whose commercial rights are owned by U.S.-based Liberty Media, recently announced Vietnam will host a grand prix in Hanoi for the first time in 2020 and is aiming to expand the calendar beyond the current 21 races.

At the same time, historic but financially-challenged venues like Britain’s Silverstone, Italy’s Monza and Germany’s Hockenheim have contracts expiring next year with concern about their futures.

Those were put into sharper focus when Formula One chairman Chase Carey told a Liberty Media investor meeting last week that “we expect to replace a few existing races where we inherited unattractive agreements, with new events or agreements that are better for racing and provide more value.”

Bratches said discussions were ongoing with a number of current and potential promoters and saw plenty of interest.

“We’re in an extraordinary favourable position I think, in the pole position if you will, in terms of Formula One being an attractive product for countries around the world,” he said, speaking at Formula One’s esports series.

“From a brand standpoint, from a history standpoint our intention is to renew the heritage circuits,” he added. “We think it’s an important part of Formula One.

“But at the same time we’re a publicly traded company, we’re a business, we have obligations to our partners and the teams to maximise the investment that they are making into the sport and we’re going to try to balance that with the complexities of some of these negotiations.”

Silverstone, which hosted the first championship grand prix in 1950, last year activated a break clause in the circuit’s contract for financial reasons in the hope of negotiating a better deal.

Bratches has suggested previously that the British Grand Prix does not have to be at Silverstone, although he said that remained the favoured option.

“We’ve said time and again our intention is to race in Silverstone for the next 68 years,” said Bratches.

“But at the same time we are running a business and we are going to make prudent decisions as it relates to running the business and that includes keeping a keen eye on fans’ views and perspectives.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge

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