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Austrian GP: Lando Norris fumes at Max Verstappen move


Austrian GP: Lando Norris fumes at Max Verstappen move

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Norris was unhappy at his friend’s conduct on track

  • Author, Andrew Benson
  • Role, F1 correspondent at the Red Bull Ring

Lando Norris accused Max Verstappen, his friend and now closest rival, of unfair driving that was “just a bit reckless” and “a little bit desperate”, after a no-holds-barred battle for victory at the Austrian Grand Prix ended in a collision that wrecked both their races.

Norris, who was challenging the world champion for the lead in the closing laps after the Red Bull driver had been delayed by a slow final pit stop, felt Verstappen had several times moved under braking when defending his position.

The pair have become the dominant forces in Formula 1 since the Miami Grand Prix in early May, but until this weekend at the Red Bull Ring they had not disputed the lead wheel to wheel on track.

Their first duel, in the sprint race, ended with Verstappen on top and Norris admonishing himself for being “pretty stupid”. A little over 24 hours later, their battle finally boiled over in a frenetic 12-lap scrap.

“I expect a tough battle with Max,” Norris said. “I expect aggression and pushing the limit. I respect Max a lot but there are times when he goes a little bit too far.”

Before their crash on lap 64, which gave both a puncture, Norris had already complained a number of times about Verstappen changing his line in the braking zone or “moving under braking”, as it is known in F1 parlance. Because of the danger this involves as drivers are right on the edge in an overtaking move, this is very much frowned upon.

“All three times he was doing things that can easily cause an incident,” Norris said. “And in a way just a bit reckless; seemed a little bit desperate from his side.

“He doesn’t need to be. He has plenty of wins. I expect a fair, respectful on-the-edge bit of racing and I don’t feel that’s what I got.”

Verstappen inevitably did not agree – but was given a 10-second penalty for the move at Turn Three in which he crowded Norris to the edge of the track.

It led to the McLaren’s retirement because of damaged bodywork – which may yet have repercussions for Norris in terms of parts availability at this coming weekend’s British Grand Prix. Verstappen managed to recover to finish fifth.

Will this affect their friendship?

The two men are friends off-track – even if Norris has bristled at suggestions in the past that this would affect his approach on it – but it remains to be seen how their relationship will be affected by this.

“It depends what he says,” Norris said. “If he says he did nothing wrong, then I will lose a lot of respect for that.

“If he admits to being a bit stupid and running into me and being a bit reckless in a way, then I will lose only a small amount of respect for him. It’s a tough one to take when fighting for the win, I was trying to be fair from my side and he just wasn’t.”

Verstappen said: “We will talk about it. Not now. It is not the right time. Better to cool down.

“We are racing drivers. Lando and I, we have a little age gap and that is why we never really raced against each other in lower categories unlike some of the other drivers. But we will move on.”

Image source, Getty Images

How did it end up in a battle?

The controversial ending to the grand prix came at the climax of a race that for a long time looked to be Verstappen’s for the taking.

He had won the sprint race on Saturday – fighting off an ambitious overtaking attempt from Norris, as a consequence of which the Briton lost out on second place to team-mate Oscar Piastri – and dominated the first two-thirds of the grand prix.

But he found his Red Bull behaving worse and worse as the race developed. Towards the end of his second stint, he was pleading to be brought in for fresh tyres, but the team delayed.

Then, when the decision was finally made, Red Bull – normally the pit-stop masters – had a slow, six-second stop. That cost Verstappen four seconds to Norris, who had stopped on the same lap.

Three seconds apart when they left the pits, Norris was 1.7secs behind after one lap and on Verstappen’s tail after two.

Over the succeeding laps, several times Norris made brave, late moves to the inside, only for Verstappen to defend. Norris felt it was breaking the rules on moving under braking. But he himself was already on a warning for exceeding track limits.

When he ran off track again after trying to pass Verstappen into Turn Three, he was penalised five seconds. But he never got a chance to serve it, because the two drivers collided shortly afterwards.

Norris went for the outside this time. Verstappen, who had defended to the inside, moved back to the outside. Norris went on the kerbs. Their rear wheels touched and both suffered punctures.

Verstappen, who said he felt his penalty was “a bit severe”, defended his actions.

“The move we got together was something I didn’t expect,” he said. “I saw him coming, of course. I defended a little the inside under braking. We touched on the rear tyres and we both got a puncture from it and it is something we don’t want to happen.”

As for the accusation that he had moved under braking, Verstappen said: “For me, it was not moving under braking because every time I moved I was not braking already.

“Of course, from the outside it always looks like that, but I think I know fairly well what to do in those scenarios.

“Also, he was doing really late dive-bombs and sending it up the inside and hoping the other guys steers out of it, and hope you make the corner, which wasn’t the case.

“It is not always how you race but the corner lends itself to that. I have been in the other position as well where you go for it and it is just the shape of the corner.”

To his credit, Verstappen acknowledged that he has been guilty of this sort of attack in the past himself – notably in 2021 when in his title battle with Lewis Hamilton he repeatedly flung his car up the inside and hoped for the best on exit.

“Sending it up the inside from far,” Verstappen said, “it looks good and I like it as well, but sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, and today it didn’t work out. Then of course with the contact it is super-unfortunate.”

Verstappen actually extended his championship lead over Norris as a result of the incident, and was more concerned about the manner in which his team had slipped from their usual standards.

Operational perfection in the light of others’ mistakes had won Red Bull the Canadian and Spanish Grands Prix. Not managing it in Austria cost them a race that had looked to be a lot more comfortable in terms of their relative pace.

“Everything has to be perfect to win and we have done that well for a lot of races and today we did everything wrong and then you put yourself in this position,” Verstappen said.

“We are both annoyed. It is not only that Lando is annoyed. I am also annoyed.”

Wolff’s ‘dumb’ intervention as Mercedes end drought

The crash between the leaders handed victory to Mercedes’ George Russell – his and the team’s first since Brazil in November 2022.

Russell was 15 seconds adrift of the lead fight when Verstappen and Norris collided, a point acknowledged by team principal Toto Wolff. This was, nevertheless, confirmation that Mercedes, after a series of car upgrades in recent races, are on the right track again.

How much this meant to Wolff was clear when he went on the radio in an over-excited state when Verstappen and Norris crashed, telling Russell: “George, we can win this!”

His driver had to remind him not to call when he was in a braking zone, and to calm down and leave him to it.

Wolff said with a wry smile afterwards: “That was the single dumbest thing I have done in 12 years at Mercedes. I will be forever ashamed of this.

“You look at where you message the driver. You don’t do it on braking or high-speed corners. But I didn’t look at where he was and I saw these two taking each other out and I just emotionally pushed the button and said: ‘We can win this.’

“I could have taken him out with this message. I am emotional. I was just carried away with the situation and I think that is what he said afterwards. But seriously – embarrassing.”

And there was even time to reference his pursuit of Verstappen to drive for the team, either in 2025 or 2026.

Asked after the race whether this was now an opportunity to pursue Verstappen afresh, Wolff said: “We need two to crash to win at the moment. We still need to look at ourselves and say: ‘What can we do to have a car that is able to race with these two in the front and do it more regularly?’

“This is a moment where we can say we can be a port of destination for the best drivers, including Max. But we are not there yet. If I was him I would not consider such a move – yet.”

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