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Raymond Vermeulen: 'We are living a childhood dream'

Published on 02 January 2024 by FORMULE 1 Magazine

This article previously appeared in FORMULE 1 Magazine, on pole for thirty years! For more news on Max Verstappen and Formula 1, visit
Author: André Venema

He strikes through his office duties in the old-fashioned way: with a notepad. Raymond Vermeulen wants to oversee, as Max Verstappen's manager, the whole playing field. "Making deals is fun. If one falls through, I'm proud of that too."

Raymond, we've had three Grands Prix at Zandvoort, but Austria and Belgium are also home races for Max. Could you have predicted that he would cause such a mass frenzy?
"No, you don’t predict that in advance. But when you see him standing there, and how.... It actually already started in Austria, in 2016. That's where it started. Then, together with Red Bull, we put a lot of effort into building on that momentum. Not just with Max, but also by telling the story of the circuit, which is wonderful, with a great atmosphere and good infrastructure. They took good care of all that, and we did manage to put that Grand Prix on the map together."

In hindsight was that the salvation of the Austrian GP?
"I think you always have moments when the stands are a bit fuller... but the whole sport is on the rise. Of course with Max, but also with the championship... Formula 1 is in a very good place at the moment."

What do you think Max's part in all that has been?
"I think he has been one of the leading figures in that. Not just in the performance he gives on the track, but also how he is with the fans... But I do think the new generation, guys like Charles (Leclerc), Carlos (Sainz) and Lando (Norris) are attracting a new audience."

Exactly: the audience Liberty Media would like to reach is younger and more diverse.
"Yes, Liberty has obviously pursued social media tremendously. And young people are all on there these days. I think Liberty has pursued that very well, absolutely."

How do you try and use all the social media outlets?
"You can communicate things on there quickly. So not only practical but also commercial information. We do that with a team of people and ultimately Max has the final say, because it's his channel. There are certain things we don't want to share, and things we do want to share."

Do you notice through the company, or other channels, that Max’s reach has become more international?
"Definitely. If you talk to the people from sales in Red Bull's licensing department in Salzburg, they are also sowing oats by giving out licenses for distributing and selling products all over the world. It's a huge machine that is turning now. On top of that, we have our own distribution rights and we do that our own way. But there's also product distribution from Red Bull itself."

So quite simply, you can see from the sales numbers that they are growing and it's not limited to the Netherlands?
"Those numbers are monitored both by us and at Red Bull. And yes, they speak volumes."

Nice graphs.
Laughs: "Those are indeed nice graphs. Of course, I don't know where it ends, but I think there is still a whole world waiting for us. And for Red Bull and merchandising, and everything that goes with it."

How do you reach that world, what exactly do you do with it?
"Ultimately it's about how Max performs on track. We've always said that: it's about performance on track. You can see that Max sets himself apart that way, and in doing so he gets the status he has now: starting as the 'boy next door,' but as soon as he has a helmet on he is a lion and will try to devour everyone. And that does appeal to people, I think."

How do you explain the hysteria and interest around Max, especially in the Netherlands?
"I do think that the Netherlands is a nation that the moment it senses success - look at the Dutch national team - it runs after it. That's wonderful to see. But it is certainly nice to see that those Dutch fans are also present in large numbers at other circuits. That's something that, because of Max’s performance on the track, has worked out that way."

I see you in the paddock talking fairly often with Domenicali, as well as with the FIA president. What are those conversations about?
"Those are about things like this. For example, about what we think of a particular Grand Prix. Stefano is someone who seeks out communication and asks us for our opinion. And of course I know that Max does have a voice in the world of Formula 1. So for example, Max in Spa: we like it when that race is on the calendar. We like that the Netherlands is going to extend the Zandvoort contract, or when the circuit promoter just does a very good job. Because everything that happens there also kind of reflects on us. So we are enormously proud when we see that Zandvoort arranges everything so well. Really, they've done that very well."

What do the world titles mean? To put it bluntly, does the cash flood in?
"The achievement is what we all do it for in the end, and that still has to happen. You can see that Max is driving with a kind of calmness after his first title has been won. I think he's still growing. I can’t say anymore about which direction we are going, but Max is in a league of his own. There's still a lot to come, I think. But again: above all it's about performance. And that we gain from that commercially is obvious."

Was it a gamble to extend the contract with Red Bull for so long (till 2028). Was there any discussion about that?
"No, no. You can see the drive in everything at Red Bull, whether you come into the car factory or the can department. With this team, there is no politics. They want one thing: to win. And with the Verstappens, that happens to be what it's all about. So they’re a good fit. But Red Bull needs the tools to do it. That's also why it started its own engine program. Of course, that's a statement to the outside world. Like: hello, guys, we are here to win. And so now they’re building their own engine. What are we then talking about? If an energy drink brand builds its own engine, I think that’s a statement. That was another indicator for us that we are at the right table."

Has there been interest from other teams for Max in recent years?
"Why would Max make a switch right now? We are not interested in that. But it's a small world, everyone and everything talks to each other, but we have a commitment until 2028. And as you can see, Max is in the position of a lifetime, he is driving without pressure. Teammates? Let ‘em come: everyone gets equal machinery. And everyone is free to try to beat Max, right?"

Do you see Max ever driving for another team?
"Let's worry about that in 2028. Maybe Max will be the first driver to start and stop at the same team. That could be another Verstappen story..."

Something completely different and personal: what does a workday in the office look like for you?
"I don't consider it work at all. It's a passion and a hobby for me, I enjoy doing it very much. I’m at it seven days a week. I just get up like everyone else and go to the gym three times a week: I try to keep that up. And then I'm at it all day long: from taxes and legal matters to sponsorship contracts and much more."

Everything ends up on your plate.
"I do everything with a group of people, but there is one place where everything ends up. I discuss the outline of any action internally with Max and Jos, and then it all goes very quickly. Ultimately, the day-to-day running of the business is done by me."

At eight o'clock in the morning, you flip open the laptop and a whole line of e-mails awaits you?
"I have a list, really still an old-fashioned notepad that says at the top: to do. And when it’s crossed out, it's done. But there's always a new thing. I mean, we run it with a whole group of enthusiastic and good people, and we're living a childhood dream right now. And again, I do it seven days a week with a lot of passion and love. I never have a dull day."

You also stay energised when you enjoy your work so much.
"No, this is something in my nature, I just love to do it. And of course not every day is fun, I also have less fun days. When things get a little trickier legally, for example. But every day is different."

Your life has taken a turn since you came into contact with Jos.
Laughs: "It has grown very organically. I started with Jos, then we started with Max, and he was always ahead of the game. I always had to go full throttle to keep up with Max, off the track, with everything we had in mind. We have immense trust in each other, we do it with three people and Max has the last word in everything. But we discuss all the big things and it's always in harmony. We know what we can expect from each other. That, I think, is the basis of our success."

Max is closely involved in the things he needs to be involved in.
"I know exactly when, before I commit to something, I need to discuss things with him first. Of course, I've known Max for a long time, so I know exactly what I need to involve him in as well. When I agree to something, I want that he's behind it. And if he's not behind it, then we don't do it. It's as simple as that."

What's the next step?
"International growth. The plan is to expand that."

In the commercial area.
"Yes, in branding. Formula 1 is running full steam ahead, but it's still very niche. I think the US could be the future for us. As a brand, but also in terms of endorsements, sponsorships and merchandising. Liberty is turning the right heads there right now. That is good for the teams, but also for the drivers. Not just Max, but also the other drivers. The US is a huge market, and athletes are still considered heroes there. And I think if you can sell that story well and it catches on, in countries like the US, the sky is the limit."

Have you ever had an offer from other drivers to represent them? Or does everyone in the paddock know you're not available?
"No. I am also very clear about that. I will continue to work exclusively for Max. I don't have time for other things either, I don't have the energy for it. Max is familiar to me, he is like a family member, like a friend. Of course, I have known him since he was born. I have a very different kind of bond with him. I could never muster the energy that I have for Max for another, and I'm not going to. This is of course much more than what management actually does, what I do for Max and the family. But I like to keep it to BV Verstappen."

Because it's all worth it.
"Sure. And that has nothing to do with money. Of course, money is nice, but so is the story. If you look in the rearview mirror, we had to make some pretty big decisions at crucial moments. And those have been good. I think that over Max's entire career so far, we haven't made any wrong steps. We made the right decisions at the right moments. And I'm proud of that. There were occasional fights internally, but I think in the end the three of us always chose the right route. To this day, it has proven to be the right route."

When Max is done, will you be done too?
"Yes. I will do fun things with my son, of course, and have my hobbies. But doing this again with another person and in this form… I’ll have to pass. I would stay busy, but not in this type of role anymore. I'm quite willing to give advice or think with someone, but I won't be upfront pulling the cart anymore."

You have a full battery that recharges fast. Do you ever have to hit the brakes?
"Of course! It's the same when you have a hobby or something that gives you an enormous amount of energy: you have to slow down sometimes. I have a better half who then says: everything is fleeting. An e-mail used to be a text message, and everyone expects a reply. You have to grant yourself time and hand things off to the team you work with. No, that's not easy. I don’t let things go easily, but I have to sometimes. I'm absolutely a control freak. Everyone would agree with that. I want to know what's going on and be able to oversee the whole playing field. I do want to do everything correctly."

You give a lot of energy, but you also get a lot of energy back. In simple terms, isn't that kind of the story of you as a manager?
"Yes, in private we also have a great time together. And the appreciation you get is nice of course, but most of all I enjoy the accomplishments. Making deals is fun. If one falls through, I am also proud of it. Ultimately, we want to get the maximum out of this commercially."

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