Formula 1: Lando Norris reaction rooted deeper than Max Verstappen

Though Max Verstappen may have been more at fault for the incident itself, everything that led up to it for Lando Norris paints a different picture.
Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1
Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1 / Jayce Illman/GettyImages

Though the margin between the two in the world championship standings heavily favors three-time reigning Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver and McLaren's Lando Norris have made a habit of battling for race wins over the last two months.

The pair entered Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring having secured five 1-2 finishes in the six most recent races, with the only exception being the Monaco Grand Prix.

Despite the friendship between the two away from the track, there has been a bit of a rivalry that has developed on it, and with the same two drivers running so closely together, something was bound to eventually go wrong, and go wrong it did in Austria.

A poor pit stop for Verstappen brought an already closing Norris into the fight for the race win. Overaggressive driving from Norris on multiple occasions and bold defensive driving from Verstappen on multiple occasions ultimately culminated in contact between the two.

Verstappen had to settle for fifth place after an unexpected pit stop due to a puncture, while Norris was forced to retire from the race.

Though much of the blame was placed on Verstappen, with the Dutchman having been awarded a 10-second time penalty, everything that led up to the decisive incident paints a slightly different picture.

Norris had already committed a fourth track limits violation, which is a slam-dunk five-second time penalty. Yet for whatever reason, that penalty was not made public until after the incident occurred and both drivers' races had already been ruined.

It almost felt as though the race stewards were trying to manufacture what ended up being a completely unnecessary incident.

Norris, who was clearly irritated at Verstappen for the contact afterward, proceeded to stay that he had driven a "mistake-free race", a somewhat clouded opinion when considering the fact that he had literally been penalized for not keeping his car between the white lines on a consistent basis.

But it all might run a bit deeper than that.

Perhaps some of Norris's frustration and on-track aggression has stemmed from the fact that, in five of the six most recent races, he, not Verstappen, has had the car to beat, yet he only managed to stand on the top step of the podium once during that stretch. And even on that weekend in Miami, he was still outscored by Verstappen, due to the sprint race.

The race pace of the McLaren has shown to be superior to the Red Bull down the stretch in all five of those events. Norris pulled away from Verstappen in Miami after gaining the lead due to a timely safety car, he closed the gap to Verstappen in both Imola and Spain, and he erased an early deficit in Canada before a safety car ultimately favored Verstappen's strategy.

In Austria, things appeared to be more in Red Bull's favor, but even before Verstappen's slow final pit stop, Norris had indeed been working on closing that gap to the front. It was almost like a repeat of what happened in Imola and Spain.

Norris's slow starts, which include not only a drop from first to third in Spain before the first corner but a total disaster from the pole position in the China sprint race, have kept him from extracting the full potential out of what is a massively rapid McLaren machine.

And so even in a Red Bull that is nowhere near as dominant as last year's, Verstappen continues to string together wins.

Keep in mind, Norris is the driver who flipped off a race fan in Australia when the fan asked him when he was going to win a race. While that moment was more or less laughed off and joked about by pretty much everybody afterward, it falls in line with the idea that, yes, Norris can let things get into his head more so than one might think.

He can talk all he wants about "Lando No-Wins" comments fueling his passion to run at the front, but it's become relatively obvious that certain "motivation" can play two roles: one positive, and one negative.

He is, after all, still a human being.

Even in a situation where Verstappen was deemed to have been more at fault than Norris, it was the negative side that was on display for the 24-year-old Briton in Styria, given everything that had built up to that decisive moment.

He is still the driver with more to prove, and he simply hasn't been able to prove it by closing out a Grand Prix. Though he won in Miami, he has yet to overtake the 26-year-old Dutchman for a race victory.

The fact that Norris implied the friendship he has with Verstappen would be tarnished if the Dutchman didn't accept full blame for the incident is also quite telling.

Though it's an aggressive style that has caused plenty of debate over the years, Verstappen races everybody the same way on the race track and simply tries to enjoy his life when he's away from it.

Additionally, given not only Verstappen's positive reaction to Norris's maiden win in Miami but also his iconic defense of his friend when asked if he only won because of the safety car, that kind of response, heat of the moment or not, came across as being a bit beneath Norris.

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So if that personal friendship is indeed affected by something that happened on an entirely professional level, that really falls on Norris, nobody else. And the questions as to whether or not he can truly put something like that at the back of his mind might need to start being asked. Or perhaps Norris can negate that need with another Grand Prix victory.