Sunday, July 14, 2024

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Has the media overreacted to the Verstappen/Norris scenario?

Time heals, as they are saying. Lando Norris’s comments following the incident with Max Verstappen that decided the Austrian Grand Prix were much stronger than his response just a few days later, expressed with the advantage of hindsight and distance from the event itself.

Compare them. Among the adjectives Norris utilized in Austria were “reckless” and “desperate”, referring to Verstappen’s determined efforts to carry on to the lead at Turn 3. The Briton told Sky that “if he says he didn’t do anything wrong, I’ll lose a lot of respect for that”, clearly feeling that his friend and rival was entirely in charge for the collision.

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Four days later, Norris had partially modified his mind. His subsequent review of the incident still contained concerns, mainly about movement under braking, but Norris now believes the collision was the results of racing “close to the edge” slightly than exceeding the boundaries.

“I don't think he needs to apologize, honestly. Some of the things I said in the pen after the race were just frustration,” Norris concluded.

“Lots of adrenaline, a whole lot of emotion and I probably said just a few things I didn't consider, especially at the tip of the week.

“It was quite a pathetic incident by way of what ended each of our races, it wasn’t obvious contact. It was probably one in all the smallest contacts you can have, but with pretty terrible consequences for each of us, especially me.

“Overall, a good race, very close at times but we talked about it and we are both happy to be racing again.”

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team

Photo: Simon Galloway / Motorsports images

Initially claiming he had no room on the sting of the track, Norris later admitted he could have kept a rather larger margin over the left-hand kerb to avoid the incident, but stated that “there are things on both sides that we certainly wanted to do better, in a slightly different way”.

Whenever there may be a high-profile incident on the track, especially after two drivers clash horns within the fight for victory, there isn’t a doubt that there’s a media frenzy. This is confirmed by the cryptic message issued in 1995 by Eric Cantona, who responded to his successful appeal against a brief prison sentence for kicking a fan with the next words: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think the sardines are going to be thrown into the sea.” Diving in to see the silver cascade of abandoned aquatic life is instinctive.

Reviewing the incident now, without the burden of implied context, is different from watching it 4 days ago. At the time, the incident was the culmination of an intense build-up to the on-track battle that threatened to show into a foul temper. It was the culmination of all the things that had preceded it after the last round of pit stops, and an incident that would have been avoided entirely, but Norris later felt he could have perhaps moved just a little to the left…

But it needed to be captured in glorious Technicolor. A clash between the championship leader and a recent, first-time winner who’s an out of doors bet? There is barely one story on the town in the intervening time, and naturally it can be analyzed in great detail.

In the interests of rigor, nonetheless, let's undergo this again. Speak in order that no comment can raise the problem and without the preceding 64 laps that might characterize the events.

And without context it’s like this Thread incident. It's a classic case of two drivers overlapping barely but simply having probably the most dramatic consequences. Norris, by his later claims, has a little bit of freedom to take more of the kerb on the left. Verstappen, for his part, could have moved a bit more inside, however it's fair to say the Dutchman isn't expecting any movement on the left; his head isn't giving the tell-tale sign of a slight glance to the left. His eyes are fixed on the apex at this point.

There is a movement under braking, something Verstappen has returned to in just a few of his defensive forms, however it just isn’t a wholly reactive movement; there may be a nuance between the movement under braking and the movement to take the road to open the corner. Given Verstappen's previous misdemeanours earlier in his profession, that is open to malicious interpretation – but one could argue that Hanlon's razor could apply on this case.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20, battles with Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20, battles with Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Photo: Andy Hone / Motorsports images

Verstappen, meanwhile, was given a 10-second penalty for contact, which ultimately had no effect on his fifth-place finish as he was yards behind Nico Hulkenberg. Whether or not it was definitely worth the penalty is as much as the stewards; on one other day, with barely different (and smaller) consequences, the book might need read “racing incident.”

Did we, the media, overreact? At the time, probably not. It was a high-profile incident that deserved a full coverage. With time and a probability to reassess, the decision could also be barely different. Everyone has an opinion, and relating to the largely subjective medium of racing, you call it what you think that.

But it’s at all times good to take a look at something with fresh eyes. Perhaps, having the luxurious of watching from the surface, it’s Daniel Ricciardo who captures the moment best.

“I think the result was bigger than what actually happened on the track,” the Australian assessed. “From what I saw, no less than nothing seemed exaggerated.

“Was it overstepping boundaries? Probably. But was it anything dangerous or reckless? At least from what I saw, no.”

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