Le Mans record winner raves: ‘Verstappen on another planet, and frustrates the entire paddock’

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Le Mans record winner raves: 'Verstappen on another planet, and frustrates the entire paddock'

Tom Kristensen himself won the 24 Hours of Le Mans no fewer than nine times, but the Dane is still quite impressed by the level that Max Verstappen has been achieving for a long time. Kristensen enjoyed the weekend in Japan and Verstappen’s class, but notes that teammate Sergio Pérez has also taken a big step in 2024.

Verstappen won in Japan for the third year in a row, and Kristensen looked back on the weekend in the F1 Nation podcast. ‘I’m still full of adrenaline. This circuit, the Japanese fans, the whole environment, and a local hero who is doing well with Honda propulsion: there were many wonderful things, and I am still full of adrenaline,” the 56-year-old analyst clearly enjoyed the weekend. ‘

Verstappen in a class of his own

As a pure racer, Kristensen also sees the positive in the dominance of the world champion. ‘Yes, it would be nice to have a battle at the front, but on the other hand you can only applaud what a great race Max Verstappen achieved again. He really is on another planet. He frustrates the entire paddock,” says Kristensen with admiration.

Verstappen’s class is particularly evident at Suzuka, and Kristensen also enjoys how the rest are doing everything they can to keep up with the Limburger. ‘The intensity of the people who work hard is wonderful. There is talk of upgrades, and correlation. Everyone is really doing everything they can to close the gap. It’s difficult, because Max is at a slightly higher level than anyone else, and that was also the case in Japan.’

Pérez could also count on positive words from Mr. Le Mans. “There is no doubt that Sergio Pérez can strike when Verstappen has a bad day, something Pérez himself often has,” says the Dane. The problem for Pérez, however, is that Verstappen does not have bad days, Kristensen laughs. ‘Maybe in qualifying, because he had less than a tenth of a second ahead of Pérez, but if that is already a bad day for Verstappen, that he takes pole position with less than a tenth lead… That is the reality’ , Kristensen makes clear. ‘Sorry, but Verstappen is just really strong.’

Pérez maximizes

Verstappen as a teammate: it is a curse and a victory, Kristensen knows. “Checo (Pérez, ed.) handles it brilliantly in that same team, and I think he now has a different attitude,” Kristensen refers to the fact that Pérez regularly spoke about the world title at the beginning of 2023. The nine-time Le Mans winner praises Pérez for his overtaking actions in 130R, among other things. ‘These were some of the best moments. He was on the inside and wouldn’t let off the gas. He was hesitant at first, but he realized he had to commit to it, and he did. So hats off to him, he fully deserved that second place.’

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max verstappen sergio perez race gpjapan
Pérez has also been able to collect many trophies in the last few races.

“130R is easily full throttle these days,” the former driver continues about Pérez’s actions. ‘That wasn’t the case before, but it is still a serious curve. There are corners on this track that are more demanding, but it’s a mind game as you head side by side towards 130R: you have a split second to decide whether to keep going full throttle or to let off the gas . You always risk the fastest crash in the world here. So you have to be mentally strong, but you also need that adrenaline to do these kinds of overtakes on drivers like Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. In addition, there were good battles between the Ferraris and the McLarens in the first corner. The DRS is not as powerful here in Suzuka as at other circuits.’

Pérez is fighting for his future

“It’s always about the silly season in Suzuka,” laughs Kristensen. ‘Normally that is in October, but now in April. That was all kicked off by Lewis Hamilton a few months ago. As Helmut Marko said, Pérez has found extra speed, but he is also looking for a new contract. According to Marko, this is related. If someone from the team says that, it can go either way, but now it looks good for Checo (Pérez, ed.).”

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