The Dutch love their F1; they’re passionate about the sport and support their drivers every step of the way.
But the country has never had a real grand prix star. Undoubtedly the most successful Dutch F1 driver was Jos ‘The Boss’ Verstappen, who scored two podiums for Benetton in the ’94 season. Sadly that was the high point of Jos’ career: he spent the next decade driving a series of lackluster cars, enjoying only a brief renaissance in the 2000 Arrows-Supertec.
Since then we’ve seen a few brief cameos from Robert Doornbos (at Minardi in ’05 and Red Bull in ’06) and the largely forgettable Christijan Albers, whose last act in a Formula One race was to leave the pits with the fuel hose still attached at the 2007 French GP.
But now there’s a new star on the horizon. No, it’s not Verstappen’s 12 year-old son Max- though Badger wouldn’t be surprised to see him knocking on the F1 door in a few years- it’s Giedo van der Garde, one of the favourites for the 2010 GP2 title. And, with him being a man on the brink of F1, Badger decided to get on the phone and ask the lad some questions.
After picking up plenty of titles in karting van der Garde stepped up to single-seaters in 2003 and enjoyed an impressive rookie season in Dutch Formula Renault. He then spent three years in the Formula Three Euroseries, where results were mixed, but a switch to the World Series by Renault saw his stock rise hugely as he claimed the title in 2008. Along the way he’d also been part of both Renault and McLaren’s young driver programmes, as well as enjoying a stint as test driver for Spyker- the team we now know as Force India.
In 2009 he switched to F1 proving ground GP2. A difficult start to the season could have knocked him off stride, but van der Garde got his head down and ended the season with a flourish. A breakthrough victory in Hungary set him in motion, and he went on to claim further wins at both Spa Francochamps and Monza, which he reckons stands him in good stead for 2010.
“I had a great end to last year. In the beginning I struggled a bit to adapt to the car, the tyres and the team, but in the middle of the season it just switched on. We were very competitive, especially in the races.
“I used to struggle on the Hungaroring, but in the last two seasons it’s all worked out! I’ve always been very quick at Spa and at Monza. I like them as circuits and I think they suit my style.
“It definitely puts me in a good position for 2010. I now know how to prepare myself, I’ve got a seasons experience and this year we have to fight for the championship”.
This year he’s switched teams, hooking up with Spanish outfit Barwa Addax- Vitaly Petrov’s home when he took 2nd in last year’s championship.
“Addax contacted me at the end of last year and asked me to do a test in Jerez. I was quickest overall, and at this point I said okay, I have a better feeling with the car here. I’m very pleased with how they operate and with how they work.
“The plan was always to do another year in GP2 and I’m fully focussed on it, but this will be my last year. I’m already 25 so this is my last shot for sure. This is the year, and I’m fighting really hard for it, I’m training really hard and I’m busy with it 24/7″.
Well, he said it himself: this has to be his year. It may seem crazy for a guy of 25 to be talking about his last chance to break in to F1, but when you consider that Lewis Hamilton was a world champion at 23, and Sebastien Vettel is among the very best drivers in the world at 22 it makes a little more sense.
Not that this has got Giedo’s pulling his hair out. He’s got an air of calm about him, and is relaxed when he talks about the drivers he’ll have to beat and the sort of results he’ll need to take the title.
“Who will be strong? Pastor Maldonado [the veteran Venezuelan racer who’s shone in pre-season testing]. He’s going in to his 4th season, he’s got a lot of experience and he knows what to do. I think some of he rookies will be quick too, especially Jules Bianchi. He’s got the speed.
“To win the title the big thing is to score in the beginning and try to win some races, then be as consistent as possible. Of course you’ll have some days when you’re on top and you’ll have some when you’re not quite so good, but in the latter case you’ve just got to score points”.
So the title is clearly his aim this year. He’s been on the fringes of Formula One for over 3 years now and, as he’s the first to admit, he needs to make the step up sooner rather than later. But he wont be pushed on F1 talk- GP2 is his sole focus.
“My goal at the moment is just GP2, to win the championship. I mean, you can speak about Formula One and blah, blah, blah, but first you’ve got to win GP2 and then you can go on”.
So van der Garde has a top team, experience of winning titles and total focus on the task in hand. Can he claim this year’s GP2 championship- a title that almost guarantees you and F1 drive?
It’s a tough call, what with the competition being so fierce, but he’s without doubt among the favourites. As for making it to F1 he’s got a good shot at that too- his F1 testing experience makes him a more appealing option to teams in the test ban world of F1. He reckons he’s up to it, and Badger’s looking forward to charting his GP2 progress this season to see if he can make the ‘Flying Dutchman’ nickname his own.
Like many drivers these days Giedo uses Twitter- the soon-to-be world conquering micro blogging site- to keep his fans up to date. You can follow him via @GvanderGarde and, if you’re not already, be sure to follow Badger via @BadgerGP.