Grand Prix d'Autriche - Quand les tribunes dérapent : aux origines du fanatisme des supporters de Max Verstappen

Grand Prix d’Autriche – Quand les tribunes dérapent : aux origines du fanatisme des supporters de Max Verstappen

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

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The popularity of the son of Jos, ex-Formula 1 driver known for having been rolled at Benetton by Michael Schumacher in the 90s and made a few splashes in the rain at the wheel of mediocre cars, then exploded. Why ? Because Dutch sports fans fall in love with this kid with the greatest future, all the more easily since the national football team is not playing Euro 2016.

“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 at the World Cup”confirms the Belgian journalist Pierre van Vliet, French-speaking and Dutch-speaking.

Vermeulen has it all figured out

The young Max is the new nugget of Red Bull, who crowned Sebastian Vettel four times world champion, and there is no reason why it should not happen again. And, it’s no secret in the world of sport, the Dutch are proud and fueled by chauvinism. They love their teams, their champions, and they feel they have one of exceptional caliber. In a sport that they don’t know well but whose codes they will learn in accelerated mode.

At a time when pilot careers span 20 years in Formula 1, the Verstappen clan, and its manager Raymond Vermeulen in the first place, is rubbing their hands: after the sporting revelation, time is now on to that of monetization exploits of the prodigy over a growing popularity.

“At this point, Max’s fan club has been absolutely phenomenally successful. I believe we’ve reached 1.5 million members.”remembers Pierre van Vliet. First tangible sign: they will be 20,000 out of the 70,000 spectators to support him at the Belgian Grand Prix on August 28. For its National Grand Prix. Because he was born in the “flat country”, from a Belgian mother, and there is no question of a return to the Dutch Grand Prix yet.

It is an unusual enthusiasm for a driver who is only competing in his second season in Grand Prix. But Max Verstappen, unashamed on the track, is already thinking about what’s next: opening his merchandise store and taking his fans to other circuits. At Spa, we recognized its fans by these orange touches and a few smoke bombs of the same shade.

“There is a stunning visual effect”

He 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, travel bag, a t-shirt and a keychain. It’s a simple idea, extremely effective: its supporters recognize each other and unite in the same visible, uniform force, everywhere. And it is all the more impressive that Formula 1 discovers a mass effect that it did not know. Or saw only with the tifosi, on the Italian circuits.

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“It’s a package that they sell, and that translates into full stands because they are precisely selling full stands. So there is a stunning visual effectnotes Pierre van Vliet, journalist at Reword Media. And that may play a psychological role for Max and his opponents. Except McLaren of course, which with its English humor is delighted to have so many supporters on the circuits.

“It used to be a track that didn’t suit us at all, but the last two years we’ve had a good run here. I think it’s the local support and all the power from the fans. That really helps”Red Bull team principal Christian Horner actually told Spielberg on Saturday.

Air Max: when Verstappen gives wings

With his status as his Formula 1 star, Max Verstappen also contaminated the paddock. “Business doesn’t stop there.points out Pierre van Vliet. You should know that there is Air Max. Max Verstappen takes off the jet he bought, and not at a small price, to take the pilots on the circuits. From Monaco, they take seven to eight of them, with their companions, to the Grands Prix. The guys 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 life in orange is not life in pink, and not everything is going well in the bays of “Super Max” fans, as we unfortunately saw on Friday in Spielberg. Jerking, amused cries rose from the stands during the accidents of pilots Lewis Hamilton and George Russell (Mercedes) in qualifying, in turns 7 and 10.

There were 100,000 crowding the Red Bull Ring every day in Spielberg, half of them easily identifiable as fans of the reigning world champion. Many fans, and for some of the fanatics who froze the world of sport in this lamentable reflex.

“The team loves racing here and the support we get is incredible, the passion is great but shouldn’t turn into teasing our opponents”reacted Christian Horner. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen also condemned this behavior unreservedly; sexist, homophobic insults, also uttered towards pilots or other fans, on site or via social networks.

“Unfortunately, the public is changing”

“The grandstands of circuits are starting to look like grandstands of football stadiums, with collective behavior, training, which goes into a spinanalyzes Pierre van Vliet, ex-commentator of the Grands Prix for TF1 in the 90s. We had rarely seen pilots booed on a podium. Now it has almost become commonplace. It’s painful. When Lewis and Russell crash on Friday, the stands are up, it applauds or it chuckles in all that loudly. It is deplorable. We weren’t used to that in motorsport. But that’s 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 wedged between two hills, deep in the Austrian mountains. There, we are far from cities, airports. We have never seen that. Same at Silverstone the week before. All Grands Prix are now full.”

“The Dutch have a fanaticism, they are like thatregret our colleague. In football and in other sports. They are proud of their colors and their representatives but there is a form of extremism in the expression of this chauvinism. We must not generalize, this is not the case for everyone, but there is certainly a proportion of excited people. We’ve seen that before. In Spielberg, it is particularly visible because the circuit is a kind of amphitheater. We see them everywhere in the stands with these smoke bombs. It’s true that in campsites they don’t just drink Red Bull. This weekend there were some unmentionable behaviors. Indeed, it was time for F1 to face the police to prevent things from slipping into primary hooliganism. Unfortunately, the public is changing. It is no longer an audience of connoisseurs or enthusiasts. It’s a more popular audience. These are less educated people, with behavior that slips and it is unacceptable.”

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