Paddock Diary: 2023 Dutch Grand Prix

2023 Dutch Grand Prix

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It’s not often the most dramatic event of a grand prix weekend occurs during Friday practice, but it did at the Dutch Grand Prix.


I arrived in the Netherlands on Wednesday afternoon ahead of media day. My drive in on Thursday was relatively easy however any attempt to find the media car park would have failed were it not for a colleague sending me a pin of the exact location. The signposts disappeared as soon as you passed the circuit and we were told to park around a 15-minute shuttle ride away.

After finally navigating my way in I made my way into the paddock, keen to see the faces I had missed in the summer break. Everyone seemed to have the spring back in their step, but for how long, I wondered.

My first job was a one-to-one interview with Yuki Tsunoda at the Red Bull energy station. Walking in I saw a waving Daniel Ricciardo sitting with his manager. Almost certain he wasn’t waving at me I turned around to see who he was greeting. No one was behind me – I turned back to see him pointing and grinning at me. He really is friendliest of Formula 1 drivers. I briefly chatted about his summer break and joked about his red wine consumption, which he assured me was low, before sitting down with his team mate.

As media day continued I noted how tanned all the drivers looked. Lando Norris was practically glowing, Alex Albon had definitely caught the sun and Carlos Sainz Jnr had clearly spent some time on a yacht.

Later, I joined a select group of three other journalists for an in-depth chat with George Russell. The talk inevitably turned to his team mate mate, who I suddenly realised was sitting at the next table. It’s always awkward asking a driver about beating his team mate but even worse when they’re sitting in earshot.

The day ended with a meal put on by Alpine on the beach with a few journalists before driving back to my hotel near the airport. The fans had not arrived yet, but I knew tomorrow the place would be packed.

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Lando Norris, McLaren, Zandvoort, 2023

As predicted, the roads were a fair bit busier on Friday with thousands walking and cycling into the track too. Despite some questionable traffic management, we managed to find our way to the media car park. The Max Verstappen fans were out in force and I rushed through a sea of orange to get to the paddock. Stopping only once so I wouldn’t get run over by Lando Norris and Alex Albon driving in, I settled down to watch first practice.

Oscar Piastri, Daniel Ricciardo, Zandvoort, 2023Using the break between sessions to look around I was once again impressed at the fans at the track. Most were dressed almost entirely in orange, and others had the Dutch flag painted on their faces. And you have to hand it to the Dutch fans – they know how to party at a race track.

Unfortunately, second practice gave us more action than we hoped for after an unusual double crash. Oscar Piastri lost control of his McLaren in turn three and collided with the barriers. Moments later however Ricciardo came around at full pelt, saw the McLaren and slid into the barriers himself. Clutching his hand as he got out of the car we immediately knew it didn’t look good.

Rumours started swirling that he had gone to the medical centre and then been transferred to hospital. It didn’t look good, but AlphaTauri were keeping their cards close to their chest until they knew more.

Heading down from the media centre I saw Liam Lawson, Red Bull and AlphaTauri’s reserve driver, going into the drivers’ briefing. Despite that not being uncommon, it wasn’t a good sign for Ricciardo.

Later that evening it was confirmed Ricciardo was out with a broken wrist. A huge shame and one I was very sorry to see happen.

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The news Ricciardo wouldn’t be racing dominated a lot of conversations on Saturday morning. A previously-arranged media conference involving McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown and team principal Andrea Stella began with several questions over their latest contract row with IndyCar’s champion-elect Alex Palou. But the discussion soon turned to their former driver. The pair expressed sorrow over Ricciardo’s latest setback and it was clear he was still well respected by a team which parted ways with him last season.

The rain arrived before final practice and returned during qualifying, meaning we had a mixed-up grid for Sunday’s race, bar Verstappen on pole as usual. Norris took second with the Mercedes of Russell third.

Both Ferraris struggled. Sainz in particular looked downbeat as he entered the TV pen. As he made his way over to us I realised we don’t often see Sainz smile anymore. As a driver who has spent 241 laps in fifth place this year, more than anyone else, you can probably guess why.

I finished the day at a drinks event with F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and managed to say a quick hello in before he was whisked away to film with Netflix.


Zandvoort, 2023

The trip in on Sunday morning was a dream – had the fans opted for a lie-in? Whatever, the roads were clear and we sailed straight into the paddock as the crowds started building up.

You can’t hear yourself think on race day at Zandvoort thanks to the constant loud music played by the on-site DJ. The fans were loving it, their enthusiasm undimmed by the occasional showers.

The morning was spent talking technical details with various team members before grid access opened. Remembering how loud the track was last season I grabbed my ear protectors before heading down.

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The grid quickly became busy and I found myself stuck at one point in between two massive crowds. It meant only one thing – there was a celebrity on track. Looking around to see who it was I noticed Karun Chandhok taking a selfie with Steve Carell.

A tall man with strawberry blonde hair photobombed them. Catching his eye, I told him that could be one for the scrapbook. Only afterwards did I realise the person I just complimented was King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

Charles Leclerc was the second car to retire from the race which meant it was time to go and interview him. Walking down to the media pen I glanced at the sky which had a very angry cloud overhead. Picking up my pace to find cover I dashed under before a deluge of rain fell from the sky. Jokingly Leclerc said that was the rain they had been hoping for before retiring his damaged car.

The downpour made for a dramatic conclusion to the race. Sergio Perez, who had picked up a five-second penalty, took the chequered flag in third but lost his place on the podium. He was one of the first to speak to us.

Not one to give too much away, as he was talking he turned towards a screen showing a replay of his Red Bull heading towards a barrier during the race. He turned back to us, smiling as he said he didn’t need to see that. I realised then too it was the first time in a long time I had seen Perez smile.

I finished the day with a quick wave goodbye to Jennie Gow, the BBC pit lane reporter. She had been away since suffering a stroke at the start of the year and I was elated to hear her back where she belongs on the race’s radio broadcast.

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Red Bull, Zandvoort, 2023

2023 Dutch Grand Prix

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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5 comments on “Paddock Diary: 2023 Dutch Grand Prix”

  1. Coventry Climax
    29th August 2023, 13:03

    Nice read again, thanks!

    1. Fun read. THX!

  2. I actually think Perez had a lot to be relieved for. On the road he still finished at least third, he was ahead of Verstappen early on due to having made the right call on tyres himself and one worry for next season will not be pressuring him at least for another few months, possibly not until early next season with Daniel having to recover first.

    He seems still not to feel entirely comfortable with the car (no experimenting with pushing the tyres more than the team ask of him, going for a lap relatively early in each session to have a good shot at a banker lap etc), but he is not completely lost anymore. Now he should just do what Rosberg advised him to do – just focus on himself and getting the best preparation and results he can and forget about beating Max.

    1. Coventry Climax
      29th August 2023, 21:56

      Forget it, it’s not going to happen, and whatever the situation with Ricciardo, Perez has no Red Bull seat next year.
      Well, that’s my prediction anyway.

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