Formula 1: The key advantage Max Verstappen still holds over Lando Norris

For most of the 2024 Formula 1 season, it's been a tossup between Red Bull and McLaren. However, there is one factor still making much of the difference.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1 / Guenther Iby/GettyImages

Max Verstappen and Lando Norris have two vastly varying Formula 1 resumes, with three world championships and 61 race wins to Verstappen's name and just one win, two pole positions, and 19 podium finishes to Norris's name.

However, the two of them are, believe it or not, at the same stages of their careers: their primes. Verstappen and Norris are currently two of the best drivers on the grid, racing in what have been the two fastest cars in Formula 1.

Over the last seven races, the Dutchman and the Briton have finished 1-2 on five occasions. Of those five races, Verstappen has crucially won four, and he arguably would have won all five had it not been for an ill-timed safety car period during the Miami Grand Prix.

Of course, one of the two times during that stretch when they did not finish 1-2 was this past weekend's Austrian Grand Prix, when the pair fought tooth and nail for the win in the final stages of the race before making contact, puncturing tires on both cars. Norris was knocked out of the race, while Verstappen had to settle for fifth place.

But it was this very battle at the Red Bull Ring that really exposed the area where Verstappen still has Norris, and McLaren for that matter, beat.

Verstappen's driving style is in Norris's head, and the pressure has gotten to him.

When Verstappen first broke onto the Formula 1 scene in 2015, it wasn't so much his speed that really had people take notice, but rather his aggressiveness and insane bravery, especially for someone who, at the time, was just 17 years old.

While his crash-heavy, "push now, worry later" approach has since faded a bit, his aggressive wheel-to-wheel style has not. During his time fighting at the sharp end of the field, many, if not all, of the sport's top drivers have had Verstappen's rough style get into their heads, and they have been almost forced to change their approach, in a way.

Lewis Hamilton learned in 2021 that hanging around the outside of the Dutchman simply wasn't going to work, because whether he crashed, and got a penalty or not, he was just going to drive Hamilton wide and off the track. It's a huge reason why Verstappen won the 2021 world championship.

Three years on, Norris is feeling that same pressure.

Perhaps the best example of this came from this past weekend in Austria, where the aforementioned turn three contact took both drivers out of contention. Verstappen was deemed to be at fault for the incident, with his car moving slightly left as Norris came alongside under braking, and he was given a 10-second penalty.

But just because it wasn't Norris's fault does not mean he didn't have a part to play in the incident or couldn't have taken some avoiding action.

It's clear that while Verstappen's car was angled left, the McLaren's left tires were only on the white line, meaning that he had a whole painted curb section to push onto, should he have needed it. In this case, he did need it.

The incident unfolded after three separate (unsuccessful) divebomb attempts from Norris, two of which also saw Verstappen move under braking and force Norris to avoid contact.

Following those attempts, it's clear that Norris lost trust and confidence in how his opponent was going to race him, which ultimately led to the turn three collision.

The incident sparked a ton of drama between the two friends, which quickly spread throughout the Formula 1 paddock and fan community. Not only has Verstappen's relentlessness gotten into Norris's head, but also seemingly into the heads of the members of his own team.

All of this is a direct result of what Verstappen does best: be unpredictable, and almost scary, in virtually any form of combat, and subsequently getting into his opponents' minds.

Some say it's dirty, and some say it's clean and just plain tactics. Regardless, he's the only one who is able to do it, and it's a brilliant form of manipulation that has led to unparalleled success.

Verstappen's race craft is single-handedly carrying Red Bull this season.

At the start of the season, Red Bull looked to have the dominant package again, as both Verstappen and Sergio Perez waxed the field with three 1-2 results in the opening four races. Since the Miami Grand Prix, however, all of that talk has shifted to whether they even have the fastest car at all.

Yet even when the McLaren, or sometimes even the Mercedes and Ferrari, have been objectively quicker than the Red Bull, Verstappen has, one way or another, clawed his way to victory anyway.

In multiple races this season, Verstappen has been able to take advantage of Norris, and several other frontrunners for that matter, in a variety of ways. Whether it be him fending off Norris late in Imola, out-dueling virtually everybody in the tricky conditions in Canada, or getting a great start in Spain, Verstappen has almost always come out on top in any fight with any driver.

Meanwhile, at the same time, teammate Perez, who is driving the exact same car, has only scored 15 points in the last five race weekends, while Verstappen has scored three race wins, plus one sprint win, during that stretch. That goes to show not so much how poor Perez's form has been, but also how dominant Verstappen has still been with a far-from-dominant race car.

While his speed in that Red Bull has been sensational at many different points, it hasn't been the deciding factor. At the end of the day, these are Formula 1 drivers, and all of them are capable of going around a race track quickly and laying down great qualifying laps, even if it is rarer for some than it is for others.

When people hear the term race craft, many mistake it for being solely about wheel-to-wheel combat, when in reality, it's about that, along with tire management, the ability to deal with pressure situations, the ability to make smart decisions, among many other things.

Many drivers in the sport's history have shown how brilliant they are in some of these areas. Few of them, if any, have proven to be the best in every single one of these categories, and even fewer have been able to put them all on display every single race weekend.

Love him or hate him, Verstappen is one of those drivers: a special talent with an extraordinary mentality that puts the exclamation mark on the phrase "refuse to lose".

Next. Formula 1: The real culprit isn't Max Verstappen – and it's not Lando Norris either. Formula 1: The real culprit isn't Max Verstappen – and it's not Lando Norris either. dark

Until Norris, McLaren, or somebody else can match his speed, aggression, and mental toughness with forms of their own, or simply build a car that is too fast for the flying Dutchman to beat, nobody will be able to outmatch Verstappen over a full season.