F1 rivals don’t see what Norris-Verstappen fuss is all about

F1 rivals don’t see what Norris-Verstappen fuss is all about

SILVERSTONE, England — Any chance of Formula One‘s friendly rivalry between Max Verstappen and Lando Norris turning into something more serious was ended with a phone call between the pair earlier this week.

The long-time pals and sim racing teammates collided while fighting for the lead at the Austrian Grand Prix last Sunday, prompting a furious response from McLaren in the aftermath.

Norris suggested Verstappen had been “reckless” and said he would lose respect for his friend if the three-time world champion did not apologise. An irritated McLaren team principal Andrea Stella had suggested Verstappen was never properly punished for supposed transgressions in 2021 against Lewis Hamilton.

Arriving at Silverstone, the stage appeared set for an almighty war of words to continue. RB’s Daniel Ricciardo joked about how extreme he imagined the narrative around the incident would be.

“I’m assuming they’ve probably blown it up, because it’s obviously a battle for the lead. ‘Once friends, now enemies!’ It’s probably that going on,” Ricciardo said, laughing. “I can only imagine.”

As it turns out, there is no simmering feud between Verstappen and Norris.

“The only thing that I cared about is maintaining my relationship with Lando, because we are great friends,” Verstappen said on Thursday. “That for me, after the race, I said we have to just let things cool down because emotions run high.”

The pair spoke on Monday and “came to the conclusion that we actually really enjoyed our battle,” Verstappen added. Having had time to reflect on the clash, Norris had also changed his tune.

“Honestly, I don’t think he needed to apologise,” Norris said of Verstappen. “I think some of the things I said [to the media] after the race were just more because I was frustrated at the time. A lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotions and I probably said some things I didn’t necessarily believe in, especially later on in the week. He doesn’t need to and I don’t expect an apology from him. I don’t think he should apologise”.

Rival drivers didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

“It sounds like people are hammering Max a bit,” Ricciardo said. “It sounds like it’s probably blown a little bit out of proportion.

“I think it’s the way he goes racing. Obviously leaves it all out on the track, and that’s what a lot of fans have admired about him, but do I think he matured since the start of his career? Absolutely. It’s not like he’s finding himself in these positions all the time.

“It’s hard [racing], but you’re also fighting for a win so you’re not just going to wave someone by. I think the contact, that can happen probably nine times out of ten with no consequence.

“What I saw at least, nothing seemed over the top. Was it pushing the edge? Probably. But was anything dangerous or reckless? At least from what I’ve seen, no.”

Speaking in one of the earliest media sessions of Thursday, Nico Hülkenberg echoed the view most other drivers would repeat up and down the paddock.

“To be honest, for me, Max wasn’t doing much,” Hülkenberg said. “He was more or less driving in a straight line. It was racing for me. It was next to no contact … it was the slightest of contact. I don’t think you could have less contact .. I felt it was all biffed up and dramatic.”

Perhaps remarkably given some of the fan debate over the incident in the days since, there was not one dissenting opinion suggesting that Verstappen’s driving at the Red Bull Ring had crossed a line. Several drivers pointed out the championship leader had been penalised for the incident, having been found “predominantly” to blame for the clash, and given a ten-second penalty.

When pressed on the topic, most drivers suggested the FIA’s convoluted rulebook is the bigger issue as it has muddied the water over what is and is not acceptable in close battles.

“In my view, it is clear that you can move to defend and then come back, but always leave one car’s width to the white line so the other car fits,” Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz said. “That’s the rule.

“I really struggle with the fact that we need to keep adding rules to the racing side of it. I think there’s so many already, if you read the rulebook about what you have to do if you overtake on the inside, what you need to do if you defend on the inside, what you need to do if you attack on the outside, what you need to do if you defend from the outside; it’s all a different set of regulations that is already super detailed and specific, which I struggle to follow exactly when I’m driving a car at 300 kph, because you cannot think at that speed about all those rules.

“Let’s say I don’t want any further rules. The rules are clear enough, and there was a decision taken on the stewards side already [with Verstappen].”

Sainz’s countryman Fernando Alonso agreed, saying: “The rules you forget in the moment. You are in the heat of a battle. You are fighting sometimes for points, sometimes for podiums, sometimes even for world championships.

“I’ve been fighting for world championships five times at the last race, in the last moment of the season. How you can think about the rules in this moment … you go for an overtake, you go for a defend, you try to be fair, but you need to trust the other drivers. That’s probably the way we always race.”

Do drivers have to race differently against Max?

Stella’s comments to Sky Sports after the race about Verstappen’s 2021 rivalry with Hamilton became a big talking point, with many pointing to the long list of incidents involving the Red Bull driver. That reignited an old conversation about whether drivers have to adjust when they go wheel to wheel with him.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc has been racing Verstappen as long as anyone. One renowned viral video of the pair from karting age shows Verstappen fuming at an on-track clash between them — a baby-faced Leclerc, instead, brushes it off as “just an incident” between the two.

Asked if he approaches battles with Verstappen differently, Leclerc said: “No, you get to know the drivers more and more, and with Max, he’s probably the driver that I know most on the grid as we have driven against each other from a very long time since back in 2010, I think.

“I think you know more or less how each driver is going to react or fight or defend or attack you. However, I don’t fight them in different ways, any of them. I’ll always try and fight them in the same way. It mostly depends on the situation you are in, and of course if you are fighting for a P6 in the championship, and Max is 100 points ahead, you might not fight him as hard.

“But when a win is on the table, I will always go flat out with whoever I’m fighting with.”

Ricciardo said everyone on the grid knows you can only pass Verstappen with a very well-executed overtaking move.

“It doesn’t necessarily maybe change the way you race him,” he said. “You just know you’re going to have to pull off a really good move and make it stick, and I think Lando learned that on Saturday.

“He thought he probably had it done, and Max said, ‘No, not today.’ You live and you learn. Obviously then, Lando made some bold moves on Sunday, and had his elbows out too. Unfortunate that I think the outcome was what it was.”

The Australian added that everyone on the grid knows how hard Verstappen is going to race them in those moments and that they should respond in a similar way.

“No one in this sport wants to be the one that gets bullied,” Ricciardo added. “You want to stand your ground against everyone. Obviously it’s your reputation as well. When people come up to you on track, you don’t want them to think, ‘Oh this guy’s going to be an easy one for me.’

“So you always want to have your elbows out to an extent. We know Max from day one has always had his out, and I think just naturally his DNA, he just is a tough racer. It’s not something he has to really dig deep for. That’s just how he races. You know it’s kind of unconditional with him, that you’re going to get a tough battle.”

So what now? While the Verstappen-Norris friendship appeared to have survived the punctured tyres, shattered carbon fibre and careless TV quotes of the Austrian Grand Prix, there are plenty of people in the paddock who expect McLaren and Red Bull’s tight battle out in front to escalate into similar scenes in future.

“They are both going for the win so it’s going to be emotional,” Williams driver Alex Albon said. “It’s in the moment and they are both fighting for victory, so I think it will play an impact on their relationship to some degree. Especially as McLaren are going to be fighting more and more for victory.

“Could even get the same action this weekend and for the rest of the year. It’s just natural when drivers keep finding themselves in the same positions, in first and second, they are going to have more chances to bang wheels.”

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