Annoyed Verstappen only has himself to blame for Norris clash


The battle for the lead of the 2024 Austrian Grand Prix ended abruptly when Max Verstappen squeezed Lando Norris. The World Champion blamed Red Bull's strategy, but Mark Hughes says that the F1 team was virtually faultless

Damaged Red Bull of Max Verstappen after 2024 Austrian GP crash with Lando Norris

Norris heads to retirement, past Verstappen's ailing Red Bull

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Max Verstappen was annoyed about his strategy post-race, annoyed about the sticking left-rear wheel at his final stop which cost him 4sec and allowed Lando Norris’s McLaren within striking range. Without that, Norris wouldn’t have got close enough to attack Verstappen. Without the need to repel Norris, they wouldn’t have clashed and punctured each other’s tyres, handing the victory to George Russell’s Mercedes. He even said he was more annoyed about the strategy than he was about the incident with Norris.

That definitely did not apply to Norris, who put the blame firmly in Max’s court. It was difficult to disagree. The puncturing incident came as Verstappen swooped left to squeeze Norris on the approach to Turn 3 until the McLaren had no more road left. Verstappen received a 10sec penalty for it. But even before then he’d incurred Norris’s wrath by hovering around in the middle of the track in the braking zone and only taking up a line to block whenever Norris made a move.

Norris had received a 5sec penalty himself for exceeding track limits three times, but the third time was because he’d ran wide trying a late-dive pass and had rejoined back behind. The regulation doesn’t fit the situation.

But in the straight running of this race without any complications, Verstappen would have walked it. He’d got the gap out to 6-7sec over Norris in each of the first two stints. Verstappen felt he should have been brought in earlier for each of the stops, arguing that he lost time in traffic the first time and that his tyres were finished well before he was brought in the second time.

Max Verstappen alongside Lando Norris in 2024 F1 Austrian GP

Verstappen was penalised for squeeze on Norris that left both cars damaged

Antonin Vincent/DPPI

On the surface there is a logic to those criticisms, but actually once you factor in the range limitation of the tyres in this two-stop race and the fact that relative position and timing to Norris is all that mattered, Red Bull’s strategy was pretty much faultless. Running short would have left him a worryingly long stint on his final set of mediums. Where Red Bull probably did go wrong was in choosing to save two sets of hards rather than two mediums and one hard (as all the others in the top 10 did). The hard was slower and didn’t really pay back enough, taking over 10 laps before its lesser wear crossed it over with the medium.

Is it possible Verstappen’s anger was deflection? Russell was running 13sec behind the Verstappen/Norris dice when they clashed, and 2sec ahead of Oscar Piastri. The McLaren driver had a busy race from his penalised seventh on the grid (he’d qualified third), taking some damage at Turn 1 in a squeeze with Sergio Perez which also put a big drag-inducing hole in the Red Bull’s sidepod and had Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari in the pits for a new nose at the end of lap 1. He then put great passes on Perez, Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz, all around the outside of the fast Turn 6.

But ultimately Russell was the one with the more polished overall performance through the weekend – and he was rewarded.  “I think we really executed everything really well,” he said. “I think every session we maximised, qualified as high as we think was truly possible. Race starts have been good. P4 in the [Sprint] race yesterday was the maximum. P3 realistically was the maximum and the deserving result today. You know, the team did a great job. So it’s nice when you get a reward for all that hard work.”

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Piastri and Sainz took podiums thanks to ‘the incident’ which would otherwise have been a fourth and fifth.

Would Norris have won if Verstappen had not crossed the line? It looked a distinct possibility, but part of the stronger performance we were seeing from the McLaren in the last stint was with the help of DRS. How would things have panned out with the Red Bull benefitting? We’ll never know.

“I expected a tough battle against Max,” said Norris. “I know what to expect. I expect aggression and pushing the limits and that kind of thing, but all three times he’s doing stuff that can easily cause an incident, and in the way it’s just a bit reckless. It seemed like a little bit desperate, he doesn’t need to be, he’s got plenty of wins. But a bit desperate to do what he could to not let me past. I know he’s going to be aggressive, so, I’m in a way not surprised…. I just expected a tough, fair, respectful, on the edge bit of racing, and I don’t feel like that’s what I got.”

They are friends of course. Or at least they were. “We’ll talk about it,” said Verstappen. “but not now. It’s not the right time. But we’re racing drivers. Of course Lando and I have a little age gap, that’s why we never really raced against each other in lower categories compared to some other drivers here. But we’ll move on from it.”