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

The hesitance to give Lando Norris a clear-cut penalty resulted in a disaster for both Norris and Max Verstappen in Sunday's Formula 1 race.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1 / Clive Rose/GettyImages

Lando Norris's overambitious divebombs and Max Verstappen's overly defensive driving ultimately came to a head late in Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, with the top two drivers in the world championship making contact which resulted in a Norris DNF and an unscheduled Verstappen pit stop for a puncture.

Verstappen was ultimately deemed to have been more at fault for the incident and awarded a 10-second time penalty, though the penalty itself had no impact on the race result. He still settled for fifth place, ironically giving him a bigger net gain over the driver closest to him in the standings than he would have if they had both finished in the top two (in any order).

But the real penalty that needs to be discussed is the five-second time penalty issued to Norris for track limits.

Unnecessarily slow penalty causes collision

After what was a blatantly obvious fourth track limits violation for the British driver, the race stewards opted to late the battle play out before the slam-dunk five-second time penalty was confirmed to the teams and to the public.

Some have pinned Norris's aggression on the idea that he knew a penalty was coming. But had the penalty been confirmed in a timely manner as it should have been, instead of the stewards apparently attempting to manufacture drama by keeping yet another Norris vs. Verstappen battle going, the incident probably never would have happened.

Either Norris would have taken the lead with less of a fight from Verstappen, and then either built up a five-second gap over Verstappen or not, or Verstappen would have kept Norris at bay for a relatively straightforward 1-2 result.

Red Bull shouldered some of the blame as well, admitting regret over not warning Verstappen that Norris was under investigation. Even then, not all investigations result in penalties, so that would not have necessarily created much clarity.

Mercedes' George Russell, who took advantage of the collision to win the race, was not even in the same time zone as the two frontrunners at the time of the incident, so it still would have come down to those two.

Instead, neither driver finished on the podium, feelings were hurt, and chaos ensued.

But while manufacturing drama in any sport is largely frowned upon, it's hard to argue that Formula 1 didn't get exactly what they wanted.

Fans were certainly talking after the Austrian Grand Prix, which ultimately continued a recent trend of uncertainty in a sport where many outcomes had largely been considered a foregone conclusion in recent years.

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Next up on the 2024 Formula 1 schedule is the British Grand Prix, which is set to be broadcast live on ESPN2 from Silverstone Circuit beginning at 9:55 a.m. ET this Sunday, July 7. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don't miss any of the action!