Interview with one of F1’s biggest fanclubs

The popularity of Max Verstappen has seen merchandise sales and viewing numbers spike, and loads of new Dutch Formula 1 fans coming into the sport. One of his biggest followers, Bas van Bodegraven, started the the ‘Max Verstappen Racecar driver latest news‘ fan club, before the Dutch wonderkid had ever completed a single car race.

Now, it’s the biggest Max Verstappen club, with over 50,000 members. Jaap Grolleman spoke with him at Spa to get the full story.

The #GoMax gathering at Spa – Copyright © Bas van Bodegraven
Jaap Grolleman: When and how did you start with the fan club?

Bas van Bodegraven: It was early 2014. Max had just won the World KZ championship in karting, and tested for Ferrari’s Florida Winter Series. I was always interested in Max, of course, because of his father who had raced F1, and his mother, Sophie, who was herself a good karter. I thought, ‘If they coach this kid well, he can get really far’.

But I was surprised by the lack of news about Max. I wanted more updates, especially because I was ill. Nothing dramatic, but bad enough to be home-bound for some time. I thought it’d be good to have one collection of updates on Max, so I started the Facebook group with just that purpose.

JG: Were you expecting Max’s path to Formula 1 by then?

BvB: No, I had no idea. I wouldn’t have dared to dream he’d do what he has done. In fact, you wouldn’t have been able to make it up. It was early 2014 and he had never driven a single car race.

JG: How did you come up with the name?

BvB: There’s a puppeteer who also has the name of Max Verstappen. He was, in early 2014, more famous than ‘our’ Max, so we put ‘Racecar driver’ in the name, and ‘latest news’, because that was the purpose. Now, ‘our’ Max doesn’t need the addition of racecar driver anymore, but once you have over 5.000 members, you can’t change the name of your Facebook group.

JG: How do you get the #GoMax flag on every circuit, and how did this start?

BvB: This was 2015, and by then the group was getting bigger. I wanted a logo by which you could recognise us, and a friend of mine, Tom Küsters, was handy with Photoshop. So I told him the idea, and we came up with the design. I had the flag made, and asked the group whether someone was going to the Chinese Grand Prix, and indeed, someone was. So I paid € 6.95, posted the flag to them and we went on to see it on television, that was fantastic.

They then posted it the next person, etcetera. That went well for a couple of races. But then someone who had the flag, added a few weeks of holidays after the Grand Prix. I hadn’t thought about that possibility.

We missed one race, but we had extra flags made. There are now nine huge #GoMax flags that travel around the world. A tenth one was given to the grandfather of Max – he hung it in his pub where he watches the races with loads of fans.

Right now the flag is pretty popular, and we started #SpotTheFlag. People post screenshots or photos of the flag when they spotted it on the official F1 broadcast.

JG: How has the growth been since Max’s success in F1?

BvB: We started in February 2014, and in August of that year we had 400 members. But when Max signed for Red Bull to race with Toro Rosso, we instantly got 8000 extra members. Now it continues to grow quite fast. We’re now at 51,187. We have a team of 6 people who manage the flow of updates, photos and logistics.

JG: Last question: why are you such a fan of Max?

Max does impossible things, and each time he amazes me. His overtakes are incredible, for instance his pass on Nasr at Spa, around the outside of Blanchimont. That’s incredible, but I also like the way he handles the press and the fans. Despite his success and his young age, he remained so calm and nice, so typical Dutch, or how we say: “Hij is zo gewoon gebleven.”