Formula 1: Lando Norris has a big problem, and it's not Max Verstappen

Lando Norris's continued inability to make the most out of a quicker McLaren came to a head in Austria, even if the Max Verstappen incident was not totally his fault.
Lando Norris, McLaren, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1
Lando Norris, McLaren, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 / Vince Mignott/MB Media/GettyImages

Lando Norris's McLaren has been the car to beat in five of the last six races, the lone exception being the Monaco Grand Prix, and yet the British driver has only once managed to stand atop the podium, with that maiden win coming in Miami after an untimely safety car – both in terms of its time during the race and its entry onto the race track – undid Max Verstappen's race.

A hard-charging and clearly quicker Norris could not hunt down the Red Bull in Imola, the race was still his to lose in Canada despite an untimely safety car which aided Verstappen, and he could once again not hunt down a slower Verstappen in Spain.

Then in Austria, the script was similar to what it was in Imola and Spain, and this time, everything came undone for both drivers with a collision in turn three of the 10-turn, 2.683-mile (4.318-kilometer) Red Bull Ring.

Verstappen was on course to win the race, but a slow Red Bull pit stop led to the two drivers rejoining the track closely together. Norris, no matter what he did, could once again not get around the slower Red Bull, lap after lap, despite having closed the gap both before and after the pit stop.

Even before the contact, both drivers were on, if not over, the limit, with complaints on the radio from both throughout the battle.

Max Verstappen, Lando Norris collide

The incident in itself was deemed to be Verstappen's fault, with the Dutchman having been awarded a 10-second penalty (which ultimately meant nothing), though it never would have happened had the stewards done their job and penalized Norris – in a timely manner – for what was a blatant fourth track limits violation a few laps prior.

The penalty on Verstappen was probably the right call, in that both drivers played an equal role in the incident and Norris's race was already ruined. Norris was indeed making quite a few divebombs that had little to no chance of paying off, but Verstappen's defensive driving was also on the edge.

Having said that, if roles were reversed, the same driver would have been blamed in the court of public opinion, because Verstappen is the driver who everybody seems to want Norris to be.

The reality of the situation is that if Norris had actually been able to demonstrate his ability to close out a race and win a race in which he has the quicker car, this is never even a discussion.

As much as everyone wants to believe otherwise, he simply hasn't yet ascended to that level, and even though the incident itself was pinned on Verstappen, that desperation – perhaps trying a bit too hard – cost Norris a likely race win.

At some point, he is going to need to go out and prove he can close out a race if he truly wants to be considered a threat to the three-time reigning world champion Verstappen, who extended his world championship lead to more than three race victories worth of points, despite having dropped to fifth place in the final order.

Though he did beat Verstappen in Miami, he has yet to overtake the 61-time Grand Prix winner for a race victory.

Just look at the sprint race. There was no incident, so a lot less was made of it, but Norris made an overaggressive move to take the lead from Verstappen, and it ended up resulting in him dropping two spots instead, slotting him in behind teammate Oscar Piastri in third place.

Additionally, the fact that Norris claimed he had a "mistake free race" following an event in which he was penalized for exceeding track limits more than three times just goes to show that he's simply not there yet.

No one wants to admit it, but Driver of the Day Awards are only worth so much. The court of public opinion doesn't win you world championships. Sky Sports' continued biased commentary and narratives don't determine race results.

Though Norris's newfound status as the second best driver in Formula 1 is an impressive feat in itself, he still has work to do to solidify himself as a member of that upper tier. Though the DNF itself was not totally on him, he did himself absolutely no favors in Austria.

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The British Grand Prix is the next race on the 2024 Formula 1 schedule, and it is scheduled to take place this Sunday, July 7. ESPN2 is set to provide live coverage from Silverstone Circuit beginning at 9:55 a.m. ET. Start a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss it!