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Norris: Smart thinking not friendship behind Verstappen F1 defence approach

Lando Norris says that being smart, rather than thinking about friendship, is the reason he has sometimes chosen not to be super aggressive when racing Formula 1 rival Max Verstappen.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The McLaren driver gets on well with Verstappen and, amid the surge that his squad enjoyed over the second half of last season, found himself sometimes battling for position with his Red Bull rival.

But the way that he has sometimes appeared to make passes easy for Verstappen, rather than be ultra tough with his defence, prompted some observers to question his approach.

And in particular, having shown himself willing to race harder against other drivers like Lewis Hamilton, ask whether he treated Verstappen differently because they were good friends.

These criticisms are something Norris has been aware of, but he insists that anyone linking his attitude to racing Verstappen to their friendship is wide of the mark.

Instead, he says that his choice of defensive tactics varies between drivers because he knows there are some rivals where there is no gain to be had by being super robust in trying to hold them back.

Speaking to Autosport about his approach, Norris said: “I think one of those areas where I’ve done a good job this year is by reading the situations that I’m in, knowing who I’m racing against and who I’m not.

“I know it’s a race at the end of the day, but the likelihood of losing a position to Max in Austin, and how I raced Lewis versus how I raced Max, in the end I kind of knew I was going to lose positions to both of them.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, leads Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, leads Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

“That’s not a bad attitude, that’s just being realistic and honest about the situations I’m in.

“The chance of keeping Max behind was basically zero. He was way too quick, his tyre degradation – I don’t know if anyone saw this year – was way better than everyone.”

Norris is clear that defending hard against a rival you know will pass you at some point achieves nothing – and can actually hurt you because it can stress tyres more.

“There’s no point ruining the longevity of your race trying to race one person that has a 99% chance of beating you because he’s in a quicker car,” he said.

“When Lewis overtook me [in Austin] it was with six laps to go or something. He was on way fresher tyres, so still maybe not the best reason to race against him, but there was a lot more of a chance of keeping him behind potentially than there ever was with Max.

“If I’d raced Max, I would have used a lot more tyres because he was a lot quicker. I only would have hurt my ability to extend a stint or only compromised my own race more than benefitted it.

“I think that was just one of the cases where I’ve done more often good than not on choosing my battles.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Lando Norris, McLaren, 3rd position, on the podium

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Lando Norris, McLaren, 3rd position, on the podium

And rather than his friendship with Verstappen being viewed as something that could make him not wish to be super hard in his defense, Norris thinks it is actually the opposite.

“Would I have loved to be more forceful and put on a better defence?” he said. “Absolutely. Like, why would I not? I love racing and that is what I want to do. I don’t want to ever give a position up to anyone! Especially not Max!”

He added: “People on the outside are too quick to judge again why I wouldn’t [race Verstappen hard]. 

“[They say], ‘ah it’s because he’s friends with Max’ and all of that stuff. Which couldn’t have anything less to do with it.

“If anything, it makes me want to beat someone more if I’m friends with them than if I’m not.”

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