« As popular as Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten« Max Verstappen, who may become Formula 1 world champion on Sunday, is the subject of worship at his home in the Netherlands, where his name is a flourishing brand.
« Looks like F1 is the only topic in Holland right now« ensures Erik van Haren, which covers the premier category for everyday use From Telegraaf and did « never seen an athlete from an individual sport so popular in the country« .
« Before him, it was the third sport after football and speed skating. Now it’s the second, much closer to football« , adds Joe van burik, a Dutch journalist specializing in motorsports.
If fifteen Dutch have taken the start of 402 Grands Prix since 1950, none had been on a podium before his father, Jos Verstappen, twice in 1994. And neither had won before Max, for the first time in 2016.
It was at the time of « Jos the boss« which the Netherlands hooked with discipline. »The Verstappen 1.0 effect« , for Van Burik.
« It was thanks to my father that the fans started to follow me, also thinks the Red Bull driver, interviewed by AFP in 2019. They followed him, and then they themselves or their children automatically took an interest in me.«
« Typical of the Dutch »
« I must have had the biggest fan club back then« Jos confirms for the F1 podcast. »It was a big hype, but nothing like what’s going on with Max.«
His pedigree and his track record contribute, but not everything. His breakthrough at a difficult time for the national football team and his personality « straightforward and direct, typical of the Dutch« also explain this popularity, according to Arjan schouten, journalist for the daily Algemeen Dagblad.
« The Dutch are very active fans but it is even stronger with him« , abounded Layla, 20, during the GP of the Netherlands in September.
Difficult, in fact, to miss his supporters, all dressed in orange and particularly noisy, during the GP. And not just at home. « The other pilots sometimes tell me that the number of Dutch people traveling is crazy« , smiles the person concerned.
It must be said that they have an asset: the travel agency « Max Verstappen Official Travel« , which allows them to support him in a reserved stand during several races each year, which most of his opponents only do at home.
It is because the Verstappen brand is particularly well managed by those around him, starting with his father and his manager. Raymond Vermeulen.
« On a whole different scale »
« We were already very active in merchandising and fan club activities (at the time of Jos, editor’s note). We continued with Max, on a whole different scale, of course« , says Vermeulen.
Another stronghold of this business is the official Max Verstappen store in Swalmen, in the south of the Netherlands, where the family comes from. « I always wanted a space to display some of my wetsuits, my helmets, my trophies« , says the young man.
Half joke, half sign of his business acumen, the 24-year-old has warned that, if he is titled, he will ride next year with the N.1 distinguishing the world champion rather than his usual N.33 (unlike his rival Lewis hamilton, always remained N.44). « How often do you have this opportunity? And it’s good for merchandising too« , he laughs.
Max, whose salary is estimated by Forbes magazine at $ 25 million (€ 21 million) without bonuses in 2021 (the second highest in F1 behind Hamilton), can also count on personal sponsorship contracts in the Country -Low.
« He’s absolutely everywhere in pubs« , notes Rosan, 18 years old. With supermarkets Jumbo, the telecommunications group Ziggo, the ready-to-wear brand G-Star RAW, the software publisher Exact or the seller of used vehicles CarNext.com.
« And it starts to overtake Holland« , assures Vermeulen. »You can see it’s going global. Seen as he develops as a driver and athlete, the best is yet to come.«