AP – Formula One leader Max Verstappen returns home to his Orange Army of fans at the Dutch Grand Prix this weekend, with another world title approaching ominously and a different award already in hand.
The 24-year-old Dutchman was surprised to be appointed an officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau – a highly-ranked merit from the Dutch royal family.
“It was something really special, also for the whole family, a really nice moment,” Verstappen said on Thursday. “You don’t expect things like this to ever happen to you.”
Less surprising will be a second straight win at the Zandvoort track on the outskirts of Amsterdam.
When he won last year, his fans included Dutch King Willem-Alexander. Now those mere mortals will all greet him as a world champion.
“I mean, it was already incredible last year,” Verstappen said. “Amazing atmosphere, there will be a lot of orange around, so looking forward to the weekend.”
Even at 330 kilometres per hour with a race helmet on, Verstappen still takes in the Orange horde.
“You see the people in front of you, they are having a bit of a party going on,” he said. “When you drive out as well they are cheering for you, and I’m just going to try and enjoy it.”
Verstappen’s army likes letting off flares, though, and thick orange smoke billowing across tracks has been a concern.
“Maybe too many flares at times. It was getting kind of smelly in the car,” Haas driver Mick Schumacher said. “And visibility was getting low.”
When Verstappen won at Zandvoort last year, he wrestled back the title lead from Lewis Hamilton in a ferocious contest that went to the wire.
This year it’s very much Verstappen’s title to throw away.