Leclerc can show Norris how to defeat Verstappen's extreme moves


Charles Leclerc has been fighting on track with Max Verstappen for most of his life – Lando Norris could take a few pointers from his approach, writes Mark Hughes

3 Leclerc Verstappen British GP 2019

Leclerc's years of racing Verstappen – which started in karting – has given him vital experience to fall back on


Turn 3 of the Red Bull Ring, hard braking at the end of a DRS zone into an off-camber uphill right-hander, is always the place for drama, where positions are fought over and race outcomes decided. There is often ambiguity about what constitutes fair racing there too – because there are many ways to attack and defend the corner and the sporting regulations have become so codified over the years that inevitably holes can be found in interpretations of regulation wording, just as it can in technical matters. No two racing situations are ever identical. There are an infinity of split-second circumstances and to encompass them all with words in anticipation is impossible.

That said, Max Verstappen last Sunday stretched to snapping point one of those regulations when he moved left on the outside approach to the corner until he’d ran Lando Norris’s McLaren out of road, the resultant punctures on each car ruining their races.

When a win is on the line Verstappen will always stretch that wording in how he races. Some of the wording is actually there because of his own actions in the past, notably in 2018 when he was triggering anger in Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel with his hovering in the middle of the track when under attack, waiting for the other guy to make his move, then moving that way too. It’s a tactic which resulted in he and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo colliding in Baku 2018 also. It’s almost impossible to race against. He will also, if necessary, run you out of road if you are alongside on the outside. But that’s a much more ambiguous one to call – simply because if you are the driver on the outside, you can hang on after you’ve already been passed and then insist you were passed because you were run out of road. It’s a subtle but vital distinction, one that really came to a head at Austria Turn 3 in 2019.

3 Leclerc Verstappen Austrian GP 2019

Leclerc and Verstappen clashed at Austria ’19, in similar circumstances to how Norris did this year

Red Bull

Charles Leclerc has been racing Verstappen since they were kids. They know each other up very close and personal wheel-to-wheel. He knows the booby traps and how to avoid them – and they invariably race beautifully together. Think Bahrain and Saudi 2022 or Silverstone 2019. But that Silverstone race came immediately after their controversial dice at Austria Turn 3 had resulted in a clarified understanding by Leclerc of what was permitted.

Related article

Annoyed Verstappen only has himself to blame for Norris clash

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

By Mark Hughes

In Austria Leclerc was leading and Verstappen, on much newer tyres, was the attacker. On the 68th lap Verstappen got up the inside at Turn 3 with a super-late and aggressive switch under braking. But Leclerc was able to hang on around the outside, pincering the Red Bull in, preventing Verstappen from using up the whole track width on exit. This gave Verstappen wheelspin as he accelerated and Leclerc was able to use his superior traction from the less compromised line to out-accelerate him and swoop back ahead even before they reached Turn 4. It was beautiful, classic, hard racing.

A lap later, with just two to go, Verstappen was even later and more aggressive in his dive for the inside. This time it was late enough that he could run out wide earlier in the corner after getting ahead of the Ferrari, thereby preventing Leclerc from pincering him to the inside as they exited. It was fantastically finely-judged by Verstappen. Before they’d even reached the apex, he was far enough ahead that he could make himself the obstacle. The difference between that and what had happened the previous lap was a matter of a metre, at most. Leclerc had already lost the corner but refused to recognise that and tried to stay alongside on the outside again. But this time Verstappen was able to cut him off before they reached the kerb. That was the essential difference with what had happened the lap before.

2 Leclerc Verstappen Austrian GP 2019

Leclerc learned some important on-track lessons in dealing with Verstappen in 2019

Red Bull

Leclerc, after taking to the run-off, protested that Max had run him out of road. Which was technically correct. But only because he had hung on there after the place was already lost. The leader can take up his line upon exit as he sees fit. He’s obliged to leave a car’s width on entry if the other car is alongside. But on the exit, if he’s already ahead and he can swoop across the front of the following car before they reach the exit kerb, that’s not the case. At least, that’s how it will usually be judged. But the cut-off point between those two situations is obviously a very fine line and you can make yourself vulnerable to a penalty or a requirement to give the place back. On that day back in 2019 the stewards looked at it and decided Verstappen had already won the corner and that Leclerc – while perfectly entitled to try to sit it out on the outside – had not done enough early in the corner to have the right to a car’s width later in the turn. Leclerc said he disagreed with that as a code of racing but if that’s how it was, then that’s how he’d race in future. He made good on that promise at Silverstone with a savage race-long battle with Verstappen in which he won out.

They are the lines of conduct and code which you have to learn to play with in extremis if you are to attempt to take a race victory from Verstappen. Leclerc’s been doing it for much of his racing life. With a super-fast McLaren, Lando Norris is only just getting to experience it for the first time, as he was always a year or two behind Verstappen/Leclerc in their karting careers. Although last Sunday Verstappen crossed the line of what the stewards deemed acceptable, Norris was less adept in his handling of Verstappen than Leclerc invariably is.

Leclerc Verstappen British GP 2019

Getty Images

2 Leclerc Verstappen British GP 2019

...and showed him the run-off

Getty Images

By the 55th lap Norris had used his fresher tyres to be within DRS range of Verstappen and it was game on. Up to Turn 3, through the flat-out kink of Turn 2 just before, Verstappen is staying over to the outside approach and Norris moves for the inside. But not in anything like an aggressive enough way. It was as if he was expecting Verstappen to ignore the rule about changing line and so gave himself the option of surrendering the move in case he did. Verstappen did indeed react to Norris’s move and moved for the inside to block him, requiring Norris to swoop around the back and to the outside to avoid contact. “He reacted to my move,” protested Norris. “He saw me move, then moved. You are not allowed to do that.” Indeed, Verstappen was on dicey ground but on this occasion there was no censure or penalty from the stewards. Norris was going to have to find his own way past.

Related article

Two laps later, Norris was more sudden in his switch and dive up the inside, not giving Verstappen the chance to move. But it wasn’t quite perfectly judged. It meant he was too deep in there to get slowed enough to turn and as his front-right locked, so he was forced onto the run-off and Verstappen remained ahead. But it was worse than just that. Norris had been on a black and white warning flag for track limits – and this took him beyond them again. It is ludicrous that track limits are penalised even when it’s as a result of a failed move and you’ve already been penalised. This should be in a different category to gaining an advantage through leaving the track, but it isn’t and the stewards can only apply the regulation as it is set out. Hence Norris got a 5sec penalty.

Not that he knew this as he continued to harass Verstappen for the win. On the 61st lap Norris properly got to the apex ahead on the inside and using this, did what Max had done to Leclerc in 2019: ran him out to the kerb and forced him to take to the run-off. Here’s the fine line. Verstappen rejoined ahead and reasoned that Norris had forced him off. That was a very risky assessment. But he wasn’t ordered to give the place back. It might have been argued that, unlike with Leclerc in ’19, he didn’t have the option of surrendering the corner early, that he was literally forced onto the run-off rather than had chosen to sit on the outside until forced there. But it’s a very subtle distinction and not an argument you’d be guaranteed to win. So that was now twice Verstappen had been fortunate not to be penalised.

Max Verstappen alongside Lando Norris in 2024 F1 Austrian GP

Norris will know now he has to show a harder edge against Verstappene


On the 63rd lap Norris tried something different. He went for the outside approach on entry, pinning Verstappen in before the corner. That way he could stay around the outside all the way through, try to use that to get a better exit and pass before they got to Turn 4. Except Verstappen squeezed him on that approach, twice. On the second occasion there was no more track width left for Norris and as their rear tyre sidewalls touched, so they both punctured. Verstappen got the 10sec penalty but it hardly mattered by then.

Without Verstappen’s foul, that fourth attempt by Norris looked like it may have worked. But his first two didn’t have quite the fine-honed judgement Leclerc and Verstappen had shown in their dice five years earlier. He will have already taken on board that you cannot rely on the stewards to win the race for you and that Verstappen’s tactics in extremis have to be incorporated in how you actually race him.

To the millimetre.