Max Verstappen‘s remarkable popularity within his native Netherlands played a considerable role in the return of the Dutch Grand Prix to the F1 calendar in 2021. Verstappen has inspired a wave of passionate Dutch supporters, who turn up at Zandvoort – and various other European tracks – clad in orange, to fervently root for their national racer.
Verstappen has consistently met the high hopes of his devoted local fanbase by securing three successive Dutch GP victories, including Sunday’s win that was watched by a full-capacity and enthusiastic crowd.
Despite facing a race punctuated by variable weather conditions – a potential recipe for disaster – Verstappen remained unyieldingly composed. Evidently unfazed by the pressure, he went on to claim his ninth consecutive F1 win, equalling the all-time record held by fellow driver, Sebastian Vettel.
The external pressure, however, was clearly impacting Verstappen, admitted Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. Expressing his thoughts, Horner stated, “Oh of course, you’d be a robot not to [feel the weight of expectation]. And you could see in his face, you’ve got 100,000 Dutch men and women singing the national anthem. That’s a big moment for him, for any national driver.”
Horner expounded on the immense pressure faced by Verstappen, taking into account factors like the presence of the royal family and the unprecedented local expectation. He opined, “You have to feel that and I think it must be a huge relief for him when he leaves the circuit tonight [Sunday] that he’s ticked that box.”
Horner praised Verstappen’s handling of the pressure, highlighting how he had managed the race weekend with his typical professionalism. The Red Bull team principal was especially impressed by Verstappen’s composure during key high-pressure situations, such as after two cancelled Q1 laps.
Horner elaborated, “There’s a black cloud coming, there’s a lot of drivers that would have buckled under the pressure. And he didn’t. And then again, having emerged from the pits behind a lot of cars, having to come through the paddock the way he did… There’s a lot of drivers that would have buckled under that pressure and he kept his head, and he was phenomenal.”
While Verstappen often downplays his interest in F1 record-chasing, Horner believes his driver would have felt “quietly very proud” of his 2023 achievements. He voiced his thoughts saying, “I think quietly, he’s very proud of what he’s doing and achieving. The record the Sebastian did in 2013… to win nine in a row is insane. To have done it in the same team with another driver, it’s something that I don’t think any of us could have ever envisaged.”