How do F1 drivers race against Max Verstappen? 'It's tough and on the limit’

Stay informed on all the biggest stories in Formula One. Sign up here to receive the Prime Tire newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday.

SILVERSTONE, UK — In the heat of the moment after colliding with Max Verstappen late in the Austrian Grand Prix, Lando Norris did not hold back.

The McLaren Formula One driver was understandably disappointed after seeing his chance at a second grand prix victory end in retirement. Norris took issue with how Verstappen had acted with how he acted on track, particularly by moving under braking.

“There’s times where I think he goes a little bit too far,” Norris said.

It reopened the debate — not only around F1’s racing rules but also Verstappen’s racing style. The Dutchman has always raced hard since his debut at age 17 in 2015,  with tactics that make him incredibly hard to attack and defend against.

As Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team boss, said earlier this week in an interview with Sky Sports: “He’s not going to change. He’s a tough racer. There’s an element, I think, of Lando learning how to race Max. And I think they’re just discovering that.”

Norris had cooled down by the time he arrived at Silverstone, admitting Thursday he overreacted in the heat of the moment and that the battle was largely enjoyable. But the question lingered ahead of the British Grand Prix: How do you race Max Verstappen?

Verstappen’s history of hard racing

When Verstappen joined the grid, he quickly established himself as one of the most challenging drivers to race against, particularly as he vaulted to the front of the grid upon his promotion to Red Bull four races into the 2016 season.

Verstappen’s moves under braking sparked such annoyance among some of his peers in 2016 that the FIA made a short-lived amendment to the rules, clarifying drivers could not move under braking. The ‘Verstappen rule,’ as it was unofficially known, was dropped in 2017 to give more freedom on the track.

Verstappen nevertheless maintained his reputation for tough on-track moves, which was seen most clearly in his fight against Lewis Hamilton for the championship in 2021. The pair first collided at Silverstone in an incident that resulted in a penalty for Hamilton, who tried a move up the inside of Copse on the opening lap, before the stewards sanctioned Verstappen for a clash at Monza that ended both their races.

GettyImages 1339845792 scaled

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton crash at Monza in 2021. (Photo by Peter Van Egmond/Getty Images)

Verstappen then faced action from the stewards for multiple incidents in Saudi Arabia, the penultimate race of the season, for going off-track to stay ahead of Hamilton. He also attempted an aggressive overtake on the opening lap of their title decider in Abu Dhabi, only for Hamilton to take evasive action by going off-track and maintaining the lead.

But in recent years, there’s been an extra degree of patience and maturity in Verstappen’s racing. In part due to the performance advantage of the car underneath him, he’s been able to take more time in these wheel-to-wheel fights instead of being quite so firm toward the other driver.

It made Austria a flashpoint, sparking discourse over whether the ‘old’ Verstappen had returned by being quite so aggressive toward Norris in their fight.

‘You’re going to get a tough battle’

A few days removed from Sunday and having spoken with Verstappen, Norris saw the battle in a different light. “Max has a very different way of racing compared to a lot of others, and that’s some of the reason why he’s a champion,” Norris said. He didn’t want to say quite what Verstappen did differently, only that “it’s tough, it’s on the limit,” but it was “what we love” in racing.

“He’ll push the rules to the limit, as all the top drivers do, to be honest,” added Mercedes’ George Russell. “We all know what the rules are, what the rules are around moving under braking. He probably pushed that slightly beyond the limit.” But he didn’t feel a need to race Verstappen too differently from other drivers.

Charles Leclerc said Verstappen was “probably the driver I know most on the grid,” given their battles date back to karting — including the now-viral “inchident” video — and that you did get to know how different drivers would react in battle. But he, too, wasn’t focused on changing his approach. “When a win is on the table, I will always go flat out with whoever I’m fighting with,” Leclerc said.

Daniel Ricciardo had a couple of close battles with Verstappen for victory when they were teammates at Red Bull, with one notable incident at Azerbaijan in 2018 ending in a crash. But he didn’t feel that degree of hard racing was specific to Verstappen, more so the situation.

“When you’re fighting for a win, are you going to fight harder than 15th place? Honestly, yes,” Ricciardo said. “It’s just how it is. It’s to be expected.” He thought it was “good there’s a hard battle for the lead” and joked about the narrative, saying, “They’ll probably try and create some enemies out of two kids that get along!”

Do the racing rules need to be tightened?

Andrea Stella, the McLaren team principal, sparked this debate after the race in Austria. Understandably frustrated by how Norris’s race ended, Stella said the racing rules needed to be tightened to clamp down on Verstappen’s moves.

“We need to be very clear that these rules cannot be abused in a way that then leaves a margin to do a couple of times the same maneuver, and you know, the third time there is going to be an accident,” Stella said, later adding: “We don’t want to see another 2021. I thought that was not a good point in Formula One racing. It might have been entertaining, but not for the good reasons.”

Hamilton, on the other side of the Verstappen fight that year, had little to say on Thursday as it had “nothing to do with me.” He did say he disagreed with Stella’s assessment but refused to elaborate.

F1’s sporting regulations do not firmly dictate what is or is not allowed in battle, only saying, “At no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person.” This vagueness leaves it at the stewards’ discretion to decide what crosses that line and becomes “potentially dangerous.” A separate set of guidelines about overtaking have been issued to drivers, relating to the positions of the cars and the rights to certain lines, but that is something Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was already over-regulated.

“It’s all a different set of regulations that are already super detailed and specific, which I struggle to follow exactly when I’m in a car driving at 300 kph,” Sainz said. “You cannot think at that speed about all those rules.

It was a feeling shared throughout the paddock. Haas driver Kevin Magnussen thought it should be left to the drivers on the track to define. “If you let the drivers race for free, they will race hard,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you want to be finishing races. You want to be taking care of your car. That kind of stops the drivers from doing too crazy things.”

Ricciardo didn’t feel there was anything too sinister from Verstappen. “Nothing seemed over the top,” he said. “Was it pushing the edge? Probably. But was anything dangerous or reckless? At least from what I’ve seen, no.”

GettyImages 1565178802 1 scaled

Verstappen said this week that he and Norris are “great friends.” (Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)


Why it comes down to trust

Not a single driver called for more regulation to police these on-track battles. Most felt what you can and cannot do was clear and that it was down to the trust between them on the track.

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

Ricciardo said that even with Verstappen, the trust was there; it was simply a case of knowing you might get a little less room than usual. “That extra inch, maybe someone will give you, you won’t get that,” Ricciardo said. “You’ll maybe get a centimeter, not the inch. But that’s OK.”

During their conversations this week, Verstappen said he told Norris that trust would be there. “I felt everything that I did was nothing massively over the top,” he explained. “Of course, like how you design the car, you try to go to the edge of the rules. Maybe you find some gray areas here and there. And that’s the same how you race. Otherwise, you will never be a top driver, and you will never succeed in life anyway.”

An insight into Verstappen’s mentality. And why his approach will never change: “Everyone knows that. Lando knows that, and I expect that as well. So that’s absolutely fine.”

Top photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top