‘I don’t want to mess that up’ – Verstappen’s unusual Norris stance

Max Verstappen has repeatedly stressed that his only priority after the controversial Austrian Grand Prix is ​​maintaining his friendship with Lando Norris.

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

“We’re good friends,” he said in one response. In another response, he said Norris’s view “is the only one I care about.” And, “I don’t want this to derail the friendship.”

It is, however you look at it in Formula 1, unusual to hear one driver talk about another in this way. And given that Verstappen has made the noses of several rivals bleed, and rarely shown remorse when they felt he had wronged them, he is perhaps the last driver some would expect to prioritise such a personal dynamic.

But the relationship between Verstappen and Norris has always been unique in F1 circles. They are friends, they have sim-raced extensively together, spent a lot of time together off track, partied together.

And professionally, Verstappen has heaped praise on Norris at every opportunity. When he says they are great friends, when he talks about Norris’ character and describes him as a “great guy” and a “really nice person”, he means it.

Max Verstappen Lando Norris

“With some you obviously have a closer bond than with others,” Verstappen said when asked by The Race if it was a different situation for him to deal with.

“And I get along really well with Lando. We’re fighting for the win this year and I don’t want that to ruin our friendship.

“It absolutely doesn’t deserve that.”

It is truly rare to hear Verstappen speak in such terms. And that is not to say he is an indifferent person; put him in a good mood and he will speak with eloquence and passion about many subjects and people in Formula 1 and beyond.

But for the first time, Verstappen sounds genuinely concerned about what his opponent is thinking. That’s new. And maybe it has an effect.

Verstappen sounded as though – without actually admitting it – he might have done things slightly differently when he watched the footage (he said “there are always things you can do better” and, when asked in retrospect whether he felt he had moved under braking, he replied that “there’s always a human reaction to things like people going in or out”). He also spoke with a similar sense of contrition, short of outright apology, when discussing Red Bull’s botched pit stop that he had been so critical of on Sunday night.

But that’s just Verstappen in a calmer, more reflective setting. It’s inevitably less detached and steadfast in defending himself. And Verstappen won’t change on track anyway. He won’t deviate from an uncompromising approach that has served him so well in his career.

“Everybody knows that,” he said. “Lando knows that, and I expect that, so that’s totally fine.”

He added in another response: “We’re going for it. That’s what we agreed on, because we like to do that! And that’s also good for Formula 1.”

If so, the real question becomes whether the friendship can withstand the reality of two ultra-ambitious drivers desperate to win Formula 1 races and world championships.

Can Norris draw a line under this?

Jack Cozens

Angry. Passionate. Emotional. All words you would have used to describe Norris during his media appearance last Sunday after his and Verstappen’s race-defining collision.

Four days later, four days to reflect and a few chances to talk to Verstappen too. Would Norris feel the same way?

Unlike Verstappen, Norris did not provide any details about the nature of the conversations they have had since. But for those who question the sincerity of Verstappen’s comments, one of Norris’ opening statements in the pre-British GP press conference offered a fairly emphatic rejection of such thoughts.

“We’ve talked about it and we’re both happy to get back racing,” Norris said. “Business as usual between us,” he added later.

That’s not to say there were no more frustrations. Norris said of Verstappen’s defence that “at times I thought it was maybe a bit too far”, felt that in terms of what else they could have done “avoiding an incident by moving under braking is probably the biggest part”, and was still baffled by the fact that he had been given a penalty for a track four limit infringement for a failed overtake after which he had given up position: “That’s just common sense, that’s quite stupid to be honest.”

But the tone of his responses – the deliberately long pause and accompanying suppressed grin when asked if Verstappen had apologised – showed that this was Norris at his usual jovial self. And that meant his comments were to be taken literally.

“Some of the things I said in the pen after the race were more because I was frustrated at the time,” Norris said. “A lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotions, and I probably said things that I didn’t necessarily believe in.

“It was tough; it was a pretty sad incident in terms of what ended our races – it wasn’t a (big) bang, it wasn’t a clear bit of contact. It was probably one of the smallest bits of contact you could have, but it had a pretty horrible consequence for both of us, especially me.

“I don’t expect an apology from him, I don’t think he needs to apologize.

“I thought, when we looked back, it was a good race. Sometimes maybe very close to the edge. But we talked about it, we talked about it, and we’re both happy to go racing again.”

Lewis Hamilton Nico Rosberg 2016

Other good relationships have disappeared in this world – Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are the ultimate examples. What was once an ultra-close friendship has degenerated into toxicity.

However, that was exacerbated by the closeness of the same team. And as Verstappen argues, with different circumstances and different people, you can’t compare what happened with other relationships.

He says, without blinking, that there is no reason why he and Norris can’t remain friends. Logic would dictate that if they continue to fight on track, that will be put to the test. But this is just another (very different) example of Verstappen’s complete certainty in his own position.

“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 really passionate about it.

“Of course you have to think about it after the race, he is fighting for his second potential victory and I am fighting for my 62nd. Of course your emotions are a little bit different, because I know that from myself when I was fighting for these first victories in Formula 1.

“That’s fine. That’s why I said: let it cool down for a while and then we’ll talk tomorrow.”

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