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Formula 1

'I don’t want to ruin that' - Verstappen's unusual Norris stance

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Max Verstappen has repeatedly stressed that his sole priority in the aftermath of Formula 1’s controversial Austrian Grand Prix has been to preserve his friendship with Lando Norris.

Seven times in 10 minutes in a session with written media on Thursday at Silverstone, Verstappen emphasised that the only thing he cared about after Austria was “maintaining my relationship with Lando” - or words to that effect.

“We are great friends,” he said in one answer. In another, that Norris’s view is “the only one that I care about”. And: “I don’t want that to ruin the friendship off-track.”

It is, by any standard in F1, unusual to hear a driver talk like this about another. And given Verstappen has bloodied the noses of several rivals, and rarely showed contrition when they feel he has wronged them, he might be the last driver that some would expect to prioritise such a personal dynamic.

But the Verstappen-Norris relationship has always been unique for F1 circles. They are friends, they have sim-raced with each other extensively, spent a lot of time away from the track together, partied together.

And professionally, Verstappen has bigged Norris up at every opportunity. When he says they are great friends, when he speaks to Norris’s character and describes him as a “great guy” and “really nice person”, he means it.

Max Verstappen Lando Norris

“With some, of course you have a closer relationship than others,” Verstappen said when asked by The Race if it was a different situation for him to handle.

“And I get on really well with Lando. We are fighting for wins this year and I of course don’t want that to ruin the friendship off track as well.

“That’s definitely not what it deserves.”

To hear Verstappen speak in such terms really is rare. And that’s not to suggest he is an uncaring person; get him in a good mood and he’ll speak with eloquence and passion about a lot of subjects and people in F1 and out of it.

But, for the first time, Verstappen sounds genuinely bothered about what his opponent thinks. That is new. And maybe it will impact things.

Verstappen sounded like - without actually admitting it outright - he might have done things a little differently when he reviewed the footage (he said “there’s always things you can do better” and on whether he felt in hindsight he had moved under braking, replied that “there’s always a human reaction to stuff when people go up the inside or outside”). He also spoke with a similar contrition, short of outright apology, when discussing the Red Bull botched pitstop that he had been so critical of on Sunday night.

But that’s also just Verstappen in a calmer, more reflective setting. It’s inevitably less stand-offish and staunch in defence of himself. And Verstappen won’t change on-track anyway. He won’t veer from an uncompromising approach that has served him so well through his career.

“Everyone knows that,” he said. “Lando knows that, and I expect that as well, so that’s absolutely fine.”

He added in another answer: “We go at it flat out. That’s what we agreed to, because that’s what we like to do! And that’s what is good for Formula 1 as well.”

If that is the case, then it will really test whether the friendship can withstand the reality of two ultra-ambitious drivers who desperately want to win F1 races and world championships.

Can Norris draw a line under this?

Jack Cozens

Angry. Impassioned. Emotional. All words you'd have used to describe Norris during his appearance in the media pen last Sunday following his and Verstappen's race-defining collision.

Four days on, four days to reflect, and a couple of chances to speak to Verstappen too. Would Norris feel the same way?

Unlike Verstappen, Norris didn't divulge the nature of the conversations they've had in the days since. But for those questioning the sincerity of Verstappen's remarks, one of Norris's opening statements in the pre-event British GP press conference offered a pretty emphatic dismissal of such thoughts.

"We've talked about it, and we're both happy to go racing again," said Norris. "Business as usual between us," he later added.

That's not to say there was no lingering frustration. Norris said of Verstappen's defence that "at times I thought maybe a bit too far", felt that in terms of what they could do differently "avoiding an incident from moving under braking is probably the biggest part of it", and was still baffled by the fact he'd received a penalty for a fourth track limits offence for a failed overtake after which he ceded position: "That's just common sense, that's pretty silly to be honest."

But the tone of his answers - the intentional long pause and accompanying stifled smirk when asked if Verstappen had apologised - showed this was Norris as his usual jovial self. And that means his comments were to be taken at face value.

"Some of the things I said in the pen after the race were more just because I was frustrated at the time," said Norris. "A lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotions, and I probably said some things I didn't necessarily believe in.

"It was tough; it was a pretty pathetic incident in terms of what ended both of our races - it wasn't a [big] hit, it wasn't an obvious bit of contact. It was probably one of the smallest bits of contact you could have, but with a pretty terrible consequence for both of us, especially for myself.

"I don't expect an apology from him, I don't think he should apologise.

"I thought it was, as we reviewed, good racing. At times maybe very close to the edge. But we've spoken about it, we've talked about it, and we're both happy to go racing again."

Lewis Hamilton Nico Rosberg 2016

Other good relationships have dissolved in this world - Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg being the ultimate example. What was once an ultra-close friendship descended into toxicity.

However, that was exacerbated by being in an enclosed same-team environment. And as Verstappen argues, with different circumstances and different people, you cannot compare what happened to different relationships.

He says, without flinching, there is no reason he and Norris can’t stay friends. Logic would dictate that if they keep fighting on track, that is going to be tested. But this is just another (quite different) example of Verstappen’s complete assuredness in his own viewpoint.

“It also depends a bit on your personalities,” he said. “I know he’s a great guy. He’s a really nice person who loves Formula 1, he loves racing and he’s just very passionate about it.

“Of course after the race, you have to think about it, he’s fighting for his second potential win and I’m fighting for my 62nd. Naturally your emotions are a bit different because I know that from myself when I was fighting for these first wins in F1.

“That’s fine. That’s why I also said let it cool off a bit and we’ll talk tomorrow.”

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