Lando Norris and Max Verstappen trade punctures and more during, after Austrian Grand Prix

As the Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix drew to a close, the fight was on.

A slow pit stop from Red Bull and Max Verstappen opened the door, and Lando Norris barged through the crack. When the two drivers came down pit lane for their final pit stops Verstappen enjoyed a lead of around seven seconds over his friend and rival, but problems on the left rear tire of Verstappen’s RB20 saw the stop last 6.5 seconds, an eternity in F1 terms.

McLaren answered with a stop of just 2.9 seconds, and as the two race leaders lumbered off of pit lane and back onto the track, Norris was within striking distance of Verstappen.

For over ten laps the two pushed themselves, and each other, to the limits. Norris briefly seized the lead for a moment, but with his overtake coming off the track he quickly surrendered the position back to Verstappen. As the two drivers were fighting on the track, they were taking their battle to the stewards via their teams, with both drivers griping about the conduct from their rival over the radio.

Finally, that simmering pot boiled over.

Norris got a run on Verstappen at the start of Lap 64 and seemed to have the edge heading into Turn 3, but as both drivers made the turn Verstappen looked to fend him off, and the two cars came together:

The result? A puncture for both drivers, and an opportunity for George Russell. The Mercedes driver seized the moment, taking the checkered flag for the second victory of his career, and was celebrating on the podium as both Norris and Verstappen licked their wounds.

Verstappen tumbled down to a fifth-place finish — a result that he maintained despite race stewards handing down a ten-second penalty for ruling that he caused the contact between the two — but Norris saw his race end, a bitter result given what seemed possible just moments prior.

Speaking after the race both drivers addressed the incident.

“I’m disappointed, nothing more than that, honestly,” Norris told Sky Sports F1. “It was a good race. I looked forward to probably I’d say just a fair battle, a strong fair battle. But I wouldn’t say that’s what it was in the end.

“Tough one to take. It was a mistake-free race from my side, and I feel like I did a good job but I got taken out of the race, so nothing more than that,” added Norris. “But it’s still a tough one to take when we’re fighting for the win and I’m trying to be fair from my side and he just wasn’t. That’s not what I’m thinking about. I don’t care about that now. I’m just gutted for the team.”

The McLaren driver also indicated that he expected stewards to intervene in the moments before the climactic collision.

“Yeah. I mean there’s a rule. You’re not allowed to react to the other driver and that’s what he did three times out of three. Two times I managed to avoid it and not lock up and run into him, and the third time he just ran into me,” continued Norris. “I was just trying to drive my race. He was clearly a lot slower at the end. He ruined his own race just as much as he ruined mine. There’s nothing more I can do. I did my best and it was good enough. Got ruined through not my own fault.”

On the other side of the clash the Red Bull driver offered his view of the incident.

“Of course from the outside it’s hard to see when I brake. I know in the past it was a bit of a complaint,” Verstappen told Sky Sports F1.

“Now I always move my wheel before I brake then you brake in a straight line trajectory. It’s always easy to say on the outside that I’m moving under the braking, but I think the guy in the car knows best what he’s doing,” continued Verstappen. “Everyone can have their own opinion but I’m the one driving. I’m in control. Of course, from the outside it’s easy to judge and comment but whatever, it’s what happens.”

Pressed on the incident, Verstappen indicated that he would speak with Norris to discuss the matter. “I need to look back at how or why we touched,” he said. “Of course, we will talk about it. It’s just unfortunate it happened.

“I felt like sometimes he dive-bombed so late on the brakes. One time he went straight. One time I had to go around otherwise we would have touched,” continued Verstappen. “I think it’s also the shape of the corner provides these kind of issues sometimes. I’ve had it also the other way around. It is what it is. It’s never nice to come together.”

The convergence at the front of the F1 grid these past few weeks has foreshadowed a moment like this between the two friends, who have now become rivals at the sharp end of the F1 Drivers’ Championship standings. And in many ways the struggle from Red Bull in the pits that opened the door to this climactic ending in Austria was foreshadowed in Miami by none other than Ferrari Team Principal Frederic Vasseur.

Speaking to the media, including SB Nation, in the Ferrari hospitality space in the hours after Lando Norris’ maiden F1 victory Vasseur noted how the increased pressure teams like Ferrari and McLaren were putting on Red Bull could lead to mistakes from the usually mistake-free operation.

“What is true is that compared to one year ago when we are able to do a good job and to put everything together, we are there, it means that we are putting [Red Bull] a little bit under pressure. They have to take to be a bit more aggressive with the strategy,” started Vasseur that Sunday night.

“They are not anymore in the comfort zone of last year when last year that doesn’t matter what’s happened after lap two, they were in front and it’s, I think it’s a game changer in the management of the race,” added Vasseur. “And this, it’s an opportunity for us because that if we are doing another small step, I think that we will be really in a position to fight with them every single weekend.”

Sunday’s slow pit stop from Red Bull, and the ensuing fight between Verstappen and Norris, is exactly what Vasseur was envisioning.

The incident between Norris and Verstappen will certainly be debated in the hours and days to come, but there is no rest for the weary as the grid heads to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix next weekend, the final race of a tripleheader. But what will be critical to watch over those coming hours and days will be how these two drivers respond going forward.

Will Sunday’s incident be just a flashpoint, or yet more foreshadowing of how the rest of the 2024 F1 season will unfold?

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