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Nico de Jong, CEO of 'Everything we do must suit Max'

Published on 05 March 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: Frank Woestenburg

Every day, a team of 35 specialists works hard from the office in Den Bosch (the Netherlands) to market the Max Verstappen brand worldwide. Since last year, the extensive operation is being led by Nico de Jong in his role of CEO of “I want to make people happy.”

We meet with De Jong above the Max Verstappen shop in Swalmen, near Roermond. The shop has become the most famous attraction in the village. “I always call it the Disney World of Swalmen, it’s one big party for race fans.”

While visitors in Swalmen can enjoy themselves on the ground floor with all kinds of Red Bull Racing products and Max Verstappen merchandise - from caps and T-shirts to beach towels and duvet covers - everything else is managed from the head office in Den Bosch: the web shop, ticket sales for various races, social media channels and of course the customer service department. While enjoying a piece of vlaai, a Dutch pastry, De Jong enthusiastically talks about the ambitions he has with

Before joining, De Jong was managing director of the clothing brand G-Star RAW for the Benelux area. For some time in the past, the brand was a sponsor of Verstappen. Furthermore, De Jong was, as he puts it, ‘doing everything; from shoes, mobile phones and drinks to tobacco, perfume and cosmetics’. “I have done many different things, but always in retail,” he says. He now also describes himself as an F1 enthusiast. “But I’m not a petrol head”. 

In 2020, recently retired from G-Star RAW, De Jong was already working for, but in a temporary role. At the request of Raymond Vermeulen, Max’s manager, he stepped in to lead the company through the COVID-19 pandemic. “From one moment to the next, the shops had to close, the public was not welcome anymore at races, and we had to accelerate the focus shift to the online business. I helped and advised a bit with that.”

A year ago, the phone rang again and De Jong was asked to permanently make the switch to the wonderful world of Formula 1. “At the time, I was working at a very nice company, the hotel chain ‘The Social Hub’, but I couldn’t let this opportunity slide. In this new job, so many things come together. Such as? Well, apart from the dynamics associated with Formula 1, I for example mean creating new collections of merchandise, but also questions about how we can grow internationally, and how we can further improve our channels. That are things I like about this job. In 2021 there was a huge peak around Max’s world title. We notice that we now have to put a bit more effort into attracting people and getting them to buy something. And preferably have them buy more than the year before.”

His main task, he thinks, is making the company future-proof. “At one point in the future, Max will retire from Formula 1. What will we do then? And in the meantime, how do we maximise the opportunities we have?”

“We approach growth along three axes: product range, channels, and countries. To highlight the latter: we have traditionally been strong in the Netherlands, but we now also see that we are gaining more and more traction internationally, even though we have not yet put a lot of energy into this. So there are huge opportunities there. In terms of sales, the American market is already our second largest market. And take our website,, which is now available in three languages: Dutch, English and recently also German. Germany is an important market for us as well, so we had to do something about that.”

E-commerce is an important pillar of the success of, but the most important pillar is the man who sits behind the wheel of the Red Bull car and won races continuously last season. De Jong: “everything stands or falls with Max. There is no strategy involved. Authenticity is the most important thing. Max is who he is, and does what he does. We follow suit. You could tell somebody how to act, following a well written brand strategy, but that is not how Max works at all. And that’s what I like so much, that’s what makes it real. Everything we do must suit Max.”

De Jong confirms that Max’s opinion is decisive when creating a new collection. “He has to like and support it. There are sometimes designs that he does not like, and those will not be created. It is that simple,” says De Jong. As an example, he adds: “During the pandemic there was a lot of demand for face masks, but Max himself stopped that. He said: ‘I don’t want to make money from the pandemic’.”

According to De Jong, it is important that the products are high quality. “And that we’re fast in terms of delivery. Because in addition to quality, speed is also what Max is known for.”

“I just mentioned America as a growing market. The success of the Netflix hit Drive to Survive is undoubtedly related to that, but also the growing popularity of Max as an athlete. Our logistics are well organised, I can say. If someone in the United States orders something today, it will be picked up from the store by the carrier at four o’clock the same day, and then sent to the States via airports Maastricht and Paris-Charles de Gaulle in the evening. We sometimes receive feedback from our American customers saying that they received their packages faster than something they ordered locally. That’s what I like to hear.”

Responding to current events also has become an important commercial weapon. If Verstappen wins, orders will skyrocket, especially from countries where racing takes place. Caps and T-shirts are the most popular items in the store. The more expensive items such as scale models of helmets and cars (1:18 or 1:43) are aimed more at real enthusiasts, De Jong says.

“We launch the scale model of a car within one hour after a victory. We celebrate the victory by publishing a pre-order link for that model. These scale models are limited editions, up to several thousands will be available. The items are more memorabilia.”

It is De Jong’s mission to make the company future-proof, including after 2028, when Max Verstappen’s contract with Red Bull expires and it is not yet certain what his future will look like. Is Racing, the newest addition to the company, perhaps the most logical step?

De Jong: “The unique thing about this company is that it is all about one person, who sooner or later will stop racing. We now have Racing, but there is more. There are more ways to look at the future. In any case, we don’t plan on closing the doors as soon as Max stops racing.”

“It is important that we can give a meaningful interpretation to the concept we have. If Racing gets an own GT3 racing team, then of course it makes sense to join in. But if Max says ‘I want to continue in fashion’, than that’s also an option. Or if he continues with sim racing or karting centres. Or perhaps an F1 department store, who knows. We know how to play the game of purchasing, sales and marketing. We can do that for one driver, so perhaps we can also do that for multiple drivers. What I’m trying to say is that everything is possible, and we’re already thinking about the next steps.”

Based on Max’s work values – speed, Formula 1, lifestyle – he could easily come up with a beautiful fashion brand, De Jong concludes. But would that make sense? He does not think so. “It would make sense for somebody like Lewis Hamilton, Yuki Tsunoda or Pierre Gasly, but not for Max. Max lives and breathes racing. If I would guess a next logical step, it would be to Racing.”

But for now, the focus remains on Formula 1. “And Max is far from finished collecting victories.”

The address of the Max Verstappen shop near Roermond is 'Bosstraat 91A, 6071 XT Swalmen' and the store is opened from 10.00 to 17.00 every day.

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