The return of Formula One to the Netherlands after 35 years has become mired in controversy after two racing teams got the green light to drive across a beach nature reserve to ensure their staff avoid traffic on the way to the circuit.
The teams of Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri will be allowed to drive from their hotels along two miles of beach within the Noordvoort reserve, a popular resting spot for seals and breeding birds located between the Zandvoort racetrack and the North Sea.
The decision was made despite protests from the Netherlands Bird Protection Association. Its director, Fred Wouters, said the damage would be particularly severe as the race is due to take place during breeding season.
“The important purpose of the beach reserve, namely the creation of a resting and foraging areas for beach plover and the common ringed plover, but also for seals, is being violated,” Wouters said.
A spokesman for the municipality of Zandvoort said the option of driving on the beach would be available only if there was heavy traffic and the weather made it impossible to use a helicopter.
She said: “In principle, the teams travel by road or air, but it would be very annoying if the drivers could not arrive on time. In addition, the police have indicated that there can be an attraction for fans to catch a glimpse of drivers. In that case, using the beach is safer than a route by teams on the regular roads to and from Zandvoort.”
A maximum of 10 electric Audi e-tron or Porsche Cayenne 4×4 hybrid vehicles will be allowed to drive twice a day on the beach between Noordwijk and Zandvoort. They will have to move in a column at a maximum speed and via a route to be determined taking into account the tides.
Marc Janssen, from the Foundation for Dune Conservation, said he was concerned by the disturbance potentially created both by the cars and by fans seeking to take a peek.
“Seals and birds are particularly bothered by the visual nuisance,” he said. “When they see a column of cars in the distance, they are alert and flee into the sea. That costs a lot of energy for the seals.”
The appeal of Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen is believed to have secured the return of Formula One to the Zandvoort track, which last hosted an F1 grand prix in 1985. Formula One will hold races until at least 2022 on the track, which is sited among sand dunes.