Austrian Grand Prix – When the stands go wrong: the origins of Max Verstappen’s fanaticism

The phenomenon began on May 15, 2016, considered the 1st day of Maxmania. Max Verstappen was until then just a talented apprentice at Toro Rosso. Incubated by Red Bull from Formula 3, the Dutchman won the Spanish Grand Prix at Montmelo and filled the Netherlands with pride, which finally had a Formula 1 winner. The youngest in history , at 18 and 7 months.

Then the popularity of Jos ’son, a former Formula 1 driver known for being shot in Benetton by Michael Schumacher in the 1990s, erupted and he made a few splashes in the rain behind the wheel of mediocre cars. Because ? Because Dutch sports fans fall in love with this boy with a better future, more easily than the national football team does not play in Euro 2016.

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“Indeed, there was a transfer of affection for Max Verstappen in the Netherlands as there was for Brazil after Ayrton Senna’s victory in Detroit in 1986, the day after the elimination of the Seleçao in the World Cup.”confirms the Belgian journalist Pierre van Vliet, French-speaking and Dutch.

Vermeulen has it all solved

Young Max is Red Bull’s new nugget, who crowned Sebastian Vettel four-time world champion, and there’s no reason for him not to happen again. And, it’s no secret in the world of sports, the Dutch are proud and fueled by masculinity. They love their teams, their champions, and they feel they have one of an exceptional caliber. In a sport they do not know well but whose codes they will learn in accelerated mode.

At a time when the driver’s career spans 20 years in Formula 1, the Verstappen clan and, in the first place, its manager Raymond Vermeulen are rubbing their hands: after the sporting revelation, time passes to that of the feats of monetization of the prodigy. a growing popularity.

“Right now, Max’s fan club has had an absolutely phenomenal success. I think we’ve reached 1.5 million members.”, recalls Pierre van Vliet. First tangible signal: 20,000 of the 70,000 spectators will support the Belgian Grand Prix on 28 August. For his National Grand Prix. Because she was born in the “flat country” of Belgian motherhood, and it is not yet a question of returning to the Dutch Grand Prix.

It’s an unusual excitement for a rider who is only competing in his second season at the Grand Prix. But Max Verstappen, shamelessly on the track, is already thinking about what will happen next: open his merchandise store and take his fans to other circuits. At Spa we recognized his fans for these touches of orange and a few smoke bombs of the same hue.

“There is an impressive visual effect”

You will take the next step with the sale of turnkey products through what has become the “Max Verstappen Official Travel”: transfer to the circuit – (Spa, Budapest, Spielberg and Zandvoort), entrance ticket, bag travel, t-shirt and a keychain. It’s a simple, extremely effective idea: your supporters recognize each other and unite in the same visible, uniform force everywhere. And it’s even more impressive that Formula 1 discovers a mass effect I didn’t know existed. Or seen only with tifosi, on Italian circuits.

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“It’s a package they sell, and that translates into full stands because they precisely sell full stands. So there’s an impressive visual effect.points out Pierre van Vliet, a journalist for Reword Media. And that can play a psychological role for Max and his opponents. Except McLaren, of course, who with his English humor is delighted to have so many fans on the circuits.

“Before it was a track that didn’t suit us at all, but for the last two years we’ve had a good race here. I think it’s the local support and all the strength of the fans. That helps a lot.”Red Bull team director Christian Horner told Spielberg on Saturday.

Air Max: when Verstappen gives wings

With his Formula 1 star status, Max Verstappen also polluted the paddock. “Business doesn’t stop there.points out Pierre van Vliet. You should know that there is Air Max. Max Verstappen takes out the jet he bought, and not at a small price, to take the pilots to the circuits. From Monaco, they take seven to eight, with their companions, to the Grand Prix. The boys obviously pay for their tickets. Maybe Hamilton or Leclerc don’t take Air Max, but Ricciardo is a regular customer of theirs. I experienced this phenomenon in the 80s and 90s with Thierry Boutsen, but more out of friendship. There, Verstappen makes everyone pay! “

But the orange life is not rose life, and not everything is going well in the bays of “Super Max” fans, as we saw, unfortunately, on Friday in Spielberg. Screams of footsteps and amusements were raised from the stands during the accidents of drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell (Mercedes) in the classification, on turns 7 and 10.

There were 100,000 people crowding every day at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, half of them easily identifiable as fans of the reigning world champion. Many fans, and for some of the fans who froze the world of sports in this unfortunate reflection.

“The team loves to run here and the support we get is amazing, the passion is great, but it shouldn’t become a mockery of our opponents.”, reacted Christian Horner. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen also condemned this behavior unreservedly; sexist, homophobic insults, also uttered towards pilots or other amateurs, in situ or through social media.

“Unfortunately, the audience is changing”

“The grandstands of the circuits are starting to look like the grandstands of the football stadiums, with a collective behavior, a training, that makes you spin.analyzes Pierre van Vliet, former commentator on the TF1 Grand Prix of the 1990s. We had rarely seen booed riders on a podium. It has now become almost commonplace. It’s painful. When Lewis and Russell crash on Friday, the stands are up, clapping or laughing so hard. It is deplorable. We weren’t used to that in motor sports. But this is the other side of the coin, the price to pay for growing popularity. F1 is experiencing an incredible boom. Spielberg recorded 300,000 entries over three days, on a circuit nestled between two hills, in the Austrian mountains. There, we are far from cities, airports. We have never seen this. Same at Silverstone the week before. All the Grand Prix is ​​already full. “

“The Dutch have a bigotry, they are like thatlaments our companion. In football and other sports. They are proud of their colors and their representatives but there is a form of extremism in the expression of this masculinity. We should not generalize, this is not the case for everyone, but there is certainly a proportion of people who are excited. We have seen this before. In Spielberg, it is especially visible because the circuit is a kind of amphitheater. We see them everywhere in the stands with these smoke bombs. It is true that campsites do not only drink Red Bull. There have been some unforgettable behaviors this weekend. In fact, it was time for F1 to confront the police to prevent things from falling into a primary hooligan. Unfortunately, the audience is changing. It is no longer an audience of connoisseurs or enthusiasts. It’s a more popular audience. These are less educated people, with a behavior that slips and is unacceptable.

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