Formula 1 fans make total mockery of an already meaningless award

Lando Norris winning Driver of the Day in Austria was a somewhat comical conclusion to a chaotic Formula 1 race weekend at the Red Bull Ring.
Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1
Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1 / Mark Thompson/GettyImages

With his last place finish in Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, McLaren's Lando Norris was voted Driver of the Day (again).

Norris, who had made several divebomb moves in an attempt to get around Max Verstappen for the race lead, eventually made contact with the Red Bull when he made a late lunge to the outside of Verstappen in turn three of the 10-turn, 2.683-mile (4.318-kilometer) road course in Spielberg, Styria, Austria.

Though the trajectory of Verstappen's car certainly did move left as he approached the corner, he never left the racing line into what is an unusually tight uphill corner.

Verstappen was penalized 10 seconds for the contact since it technically was avoidable and he probably should have been more aware of his surroundings, but Norris was arguably just as much as fault for making such a low-percentage move and giving himself nowhere to go.

Let's not forget that Verstappen was penalized for "causing a collision", not "moving under braking". Given the context of what happened, there is a big difference. Despite the predictable Sky Sports narrative, it's not as if he veered left.

Norris dropped out of the race while Verstappen had to settle for fifth place due to the unexpected pit stop he had to make the following lap. Mercedes' George Russell, who was a quarter of a lap behind the two leaders at the time of the incident, inherited the win.

That didn't stop the fans from giving Norris yet another Driver of the Day award, presented by Salesforce.

Everyone wants to speak into existence the idea that Norris is a top-tier driver capable of beating Verstappen, not just over the course of a race but over the course of an entire season.

While he has certainly emerged as that number two driver this season, he has still not yet managed to pass Verstappen for a race win, despite having had the quicker long-run car over the last two months.

The court of public opinion, however, does not decide race winners and world champions. If it did, Norris would have already locked up this year's title. When it comes down to it, Verstappen is the driver whom everybody wants Norris to be.

Yet over the last several weeks, Norris has continuously struggled to capitalize on the front-running pace of a revitalized McLaren. Despite that, he has won six of the last seven Driver of the Day Awards.

Norris won in Miami after a timely safety car promoted him to the lead, and he did pull away from Verstappen quite convincingly to secure his maiden win.

But he was unable to chase Verstappen down in a quicker McLaren in Imola and Spain, and he was unable to seal the deal in a race that was his to lose and remained his to lose in Canada, even after Verstappen himself was aided by a timely safety car.

Let's not forget that Ferrari's Charles Leclerc passed Verstappen on three separate occasions during the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix, and there was never an issue with contact. The two drivers still finished 1-2; it's not like Verstappen was off the pace. In fact, the winning margin was under two seconds.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Verstappen is the Patrick Mahomes of Formula 1. Other drivers, Norris at the moment, get more praise for almost beating him than he does for consistently beating them.

And in this case, Norris continues to come up shy in a car that, over the course of a full 300-kilometer race, has proven to be an even quicker car than the Red Bull everybody wanted to believe was ready to go 24 for 24 in 2024.

You can't even make the argument that Norris "would have won" on Sunday without the contact. It took him 14 laps of DRS leading up to that decisive incident, and despite having closed the gap on Verstappen in the closing laps of three of the four most recent races prior to the Austrian Grand Prix, he failed to get the job done on every single occasion.

I'm not saying Norris isn't capable of overtaking Verstappen for a race win. He simply hasn't yet proven he can do it.

But the Driver of the Day Award has proven to be a popularity contest used for nothing more than generating sponsorship dollars, and Norris will probably be number one in the Aramco Formula 1 Power Rankings this week, too.

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Finally, as for the award having already long been meaningless, let's not forget when Nikita Mazepin won it in Portugal three seasons ago, but Formula 1 had to change the results due to the outlandishness of the initial result. And I would be remiss not to mention the fact that Verstappen himself used to win it all the time – before he actually started regularly winning races and a contingent of fans started to get bored.