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

The phenomenon started on May 15, 2016, considered Day 1 of Maxmania. Until then, Max Verstappen was just a talented student at Toro Rosso. Bred by Red Bull since Formula 3, the Dutchman won the Spanish Grand Prix in 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 who was 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 boy with the greatest future, all the easier because the national team does not play at 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 Selecao’s elimination from the World Cup.confirms the Belgian journalist Pierre van Vliet, who speaks French and Dutch.

Vermeulen came up with it all

Young Max is Red Bull’s new nugget that crowned Sebastian Vettel four-time world champion, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t happen again. And, it’s no secret in the sports world, the Dutch are proud and fed 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 of which they will learn the codes faster.

At a time when pilots’ careers span 20 years in Formula 1, the Verstappen clan, and first and foremost their manager Raymond Vermeulen, is rubbing their hands: after the sporting unveiling, it is now time to monetize the exploits of the child prodigy a growing popularity.

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

This is an unusual enthusiasm for a driver who is only entering his second season in the Grand Prix. But Max Verstappen, unashamedly on track, is already thinking about what’s next: opening his merchandise shop and taking his fans to other tracks. In Spa we recognized his fans by these orange accents and a few smoke bombs in the same shade.

“There is a stunning visual effect”

He takes the next step with the sale of ready-made 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 key ring. It’s a simple idea, extremely effective: its adherents recognize each other and unite in the same visible, unified force, everywhere. And it is all the more impressive that Formula 1 is discovering a mass effect that it did not know before. Or saw only with the tifosi, on the Italian circuits.

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

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

Air Max: when Verstappen gives wings

With his status as his Formula 1 star, Max Verstappen also infected the paddock. “Business doesn’t stop there.Pierre van Vliet points out. You should know that there is Air Max. Max Verstappen is taking off the jet he has bought, and not for a small price, to take the pilots around the circuits. From Monaco they take seven to eight to the Grands Prix. The guys are clearly paying for their tickets. Maybe Hamilton or Leclerc don’t take Air Max, but Ricciardo is a regular 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 goes well in the coves of “Super Max” fans, as we unfortunately saw in Spielberg on Friday. Shocking, amused cries rose from the stands during the accidents of drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell (Mercedes) in qualifying, at turns 7 and 10.

Every day there were 100,000 people at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, half of whom were easily recognizable as fans of the reigning world champion. Many fans, and in part the fanatics who froze the sports world in this deplorable reflex.

“The team loves racing here and the support we’re getting is incredible, the passion is great but shouldn’t turn into teasing our opponents”Christian Horner responded. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen also unconditionally condemned this behaviour; sexist, homophobic insults, including against pilots or other fans, on the spot or through social networks.

‘Unfortunately, the public is changing’

“Track stands are starting to look like football stadium stands, with collective behavior, training, going into a spinanalyzes Pierre van Vliet, ex-commentator of the Grands Prix for TF1 in the 90s. We had rarely seen pilots booed on stage. Now it has almost become commonplace. It is painful. When Lewis and Russell crash on Friday, the stands will be up, there will be applause or loud chuckles. It’s deplorable. We were not used to that in motorsport. But that’s the flip side of the coin, the price to pay for its growing popularity. F1 is experiencing an incredible boom. Spielberg registered 300,000 entries over three days, on a circuit sandwiched between two hills, deep in the Austrian mountains. There we are far from cities, airports. We’ve never seen that. Same at Silverstone the week before. All Grands Prix are now full.”

“The Dutch have a fanaticism, that’s how they are”regrets 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 shouldn’t generalize, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but there is definitely a proportion of excited people. We’ve seen that before. In Spielberg it is especially visible because the circuit is a kind of amphitheater. We see them all over the stands with these smoke bombs. It’s true that they don’t just drink Red Bull at campsites. There were some unnameable behaviors this weekend. It was indeed time for F1 to face the police to prevent things from sliding into primary hooliganism. Unfortunately, the audience is changing. It is no longer an audience of connoisseurs or enthusiasts. It’s a more popular audience. These are low-educated people, with behavior that is getting out of hand and that is unacceptable.”

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