July 24, 2024
Max Verstappen

Fans should celebrate rather than criticise Max Verstappen’s brilliance, according to ex-Formula One team principal Otmar Szafnauer.

In a wide-ranging interview, the former Alpine boss calls for a fourth race in America and backs Sergio Perez to continue as Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate.

Szafnauer, 59, is currently on gardening leave after being fired last year by buffoons at Alpine’s owners Renault, who have no idea how to run a F1 team. He is currently promoting his high-tech travel and event app, EventR.
Talking over lunch in west London about Verstappen blazing his way to a fourth world title, Szafnauer said: ‘You can’t get rid of Max. The sport has gone through this before. Max will not be champion forever. It will change. We have had Michael (Schumacher) and Lewis (Hamilton).

‘Now you have got the Netflix fans who are just learning and you don’t want to lose them, but if Max is winning all the time, will you lose them? I don’t know the answer to that. But we have to celebrate Max for his brilliance and not chastise him.
‘Who would you put up against Max? For me, I love Lewis but he is at a different age in his career. I would stick Lando (Norris of McLaren) up against Max.

‘I am not saying Lando should do that, but you are asking me who can beat Max? I have no idea (if Lewis is past his best). It is really hard to know: you have to be in the same equipment. But the thing I respect about Lewis is that he works super hard and he is a great racer. I watched the last race in China, and he was behind one of the Alpines and he said on the radio he couldn’t catch him and I am looking at the lap times, and he was right, the lap times were similar. But where did he finish? In the points.
‘Who would you put up against Max? For me, I love Lewis but he is at a different age in his career. I would stick Lando (Norris of McLaren) up against Max.

‘I am not saying Lando should do that, but you are asking me who can beat Max? I have no idea (if Lewis is past his best). It is really hard to know: you have to be in the same equipment. But the thing I respect about Lewis is that he works super hard and he is a great racer. I watched the last race in China, and he was behind one of the Alpines and he said on the radio he couldn’t catch him and I am looking at the lap times, and he was right, the lap times were similar. But where did he finish? In the points.

‘But what we have to do is keep those fans interested. Last year, in Canada, the NFL commissioner spoke to all the team principals. He said at some stage in their past, NFL were at the crossroads of getting a bigger fanbase, but how do you keep them and grow it? Maybe a fourth race in America.

‘Make it a destination race. Miami is, Vegas is. Austin is – I love the city. A fourth race in America, if it is New York, or on the West Coast, make it a destination race and it will work.’

As a leading figure at Force India, which he helped turn into a mid-table success story, Szafnauer worked with Perez, the Mexican whose contract is up at the end of the season.

A good driver, ‘Checo’ has at times been blown apart by the Verstappen hurricane – who wouldn’t be? At other times, he has contributed as the perfect No2.

Szafnauer emphasises the latter component, saying: ‘I was in Abu Dhabi two days ago doing this F1 thing and David Coulthard was with me on stage. The question was, ‘If you are Christian Horner, who would you replace Checo with?

‘And I said, knowing Checo as well as I do, I would replace Checo with Checo. If I were Christian, I would still keep him there for next year.

‘Let’s not forget, that the year Max won his first championship it was partly because of Checo. But don’t look just at the last race (in Abu Dhabi in 2021), look at all the other races that also counted to that win that year. And that was when he earned the nickname in Mexico as the Minister of Defence.

‘He’s had some lows. But from what I can see this year, apart from a couple of races, where I think he should have finished a bit higher, he’s doing it.

‘Checo’s strength has always been race craft. He’s never been a great qualifier. There are not many times where he worked for me and I thought, “Why did you do that in a race?” There’s only one time I can remember, in Singapore, where he got frustrated and hit a Williams, but the rest of the time, he was very, very good at overtaking without making mistakes.’

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