Lando Norris, Max Verstappen, Oscar Piastri, Red Bull Ring, 2024

McLaren joins Red Bull in the social media war – but its key weapon is Piastri

Formula 1

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Max Verstappen paid Lando Norris the ultimate compliment with his no-holds-barred defending in Austria.

The Red Bull driver would not have wasted such a move on a driver he did not regard as a genuine threat. He didn’t make Charles Leclerc fight that hard over the same win two years ago, even with a smaller championship lead, because he knew better days lay ahead. Sure enough, Leclerc and Ferrari didn’t win another race that year.

But the Norris situation is different. Aside from the extreme outlier track of Monaco, Verstappen and Norris monopolised the top two places at every round since the Chinese Grand Prix heading into last weekend. And they would have done so again in Austria, had Verstappen not squeezed Norris too hard heading into turn three on the 64th lap.

Two years ago Red Bull knew there was much more to come from the RB18, which was aerodynamically sound but overweight. Since then the opposition has closed in and everyone, Red Bull included, are chasing much smaller gains. “We expect it to be very, very close between now and the rest of the year,” said team principal Christian Horner before last weekend’s race.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull; Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2022
Verstappen gave Leclerc the room required by the rules
Verstappen has amassed a healthy championship lead but there are still many points to play for in Formula 1’s longest season ever, which reaches its halfway point this weekend. Norris moved into second place in the championship at the Spanish Grand Prix, and though he lay 69 points off Verstappen heading into Austria, there were still 396 available.

For much of last year Verstappen was so far ahead in the standings that not only did he not need to fight hard for points against other drivers, his rivals knew going wheel-to-wheel against him was usually a waste of time. But right now every point matters. McLaren are matching Red Bull for single-lap performance to within a narrow margin of error.

What’s more, McLaren still have a development advantage over Red Bull under F1’s performance-handicapping Aerodynamic Testing Regulations. Red Bull have consistently led the constructors’ championship, and therefore are entitled to less development time.

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Verstappen is therefore not going to let a single point slip his grasp until his fourth drivers’ title is locked down. And it will not be lost on Norris or McLaren that while Verstappen copped the penalty in Austria, he won the day, adding another 10 points to his tally. No doubt questions have been asked internally about whether Norris could have got his car back into the race as Verstappen did – a point the driver conceded on Sunday evening.

Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Monza, 2021
Report: Norris clash shows stewards were too soft on Verstappen-Hamilton incidents – Stella
McLaren team principal Andrea Stella drew a pointed comparison between Verstappen’s conduct last weekend and how he approached the 2021 championship fight with Hamilton. That contest wasn’t only fought on the track, and nor is this one, and McLaren were clearly paying attention.

Teams and drivers alike know that the first opportunity to present their side of a dispute occurs on the radio. Norris laid out his concerns over Verstappen’s defending.

“He reacted to my move, you’re not allowed to do that,” he said after their first skirmish on lap 55. He blamed another late move in the braking zone by Verstappen after he went off at turn three: “He can’t keep moving after I’ve moved, it’s just dangerous. We’re going to have a big shunt. He forced me to go wide.”

His race engineer Will Joseph reiterated those messages to press their case home with the race director. Meanwhile Red Bull were doing the same, Verstappen accusing Norris of “dive-bombing” him – the same word Zhou Guanyu used to describe Fernando Alonso hitting him at the same corner earlier in the race. “It’s not clever,” remarked race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase.

While those remarks were intended to sway the stewards one way or another, even after the dust had settled both sides are still seeking to sway opinions. Red Bull did so through motorsport consultant Helmut Marko’s regular column, in which he complained about Norris “whining.” (Marko also admitted he has “always appreciated Lando Norris”, having unsuccessfully tried to sign him in the past, which adds even more piquancy to this rivalry.)

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With an eye towards Norris’ home race this weekend, Red Bull fanned the flames of hostility on their social media feeds. McLaren used theirs to pointedly share footage of an analysis of Verstappen’s defensive moves which argued, among other things, that Norris made a legitimate pass on lap 63 which his rival only reversed by driving off the track.

Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Silverstone, 2021
Red Bull used Albon test in bid to get a penalty for Hamilton
Having not fought for a championship since Lewis Hamilton drove for them, there was always going to be questions over whether McLaren were prepared to go toe-to-toe with competitors as fierce as Red Bull to claim a title. So far they have given as good as they get, but compared to the benchmark of 2021, things haven’t truly got nasty yet.

To take a notorious example, Red Bull went to extraordinary lengths to seek an additional punishment for Hamilton after his collision with Verstappen at the British Grand Prix three years ago. Reserve driver Alexander Albon was sent to conduct simulated runs through Copse corner in a bid to generate evidence Red Bull hoped they could use to pressure the stewards into increasing Hamilton’s 10-second time penalty. That proved fruitless, but it also proved the lengths Red Bull are prepared to go, which McLaren must be prepared to match.

But in the contest between the two teams, McLaren appears to have one weapon which, at the moment, Red Bull don’t have an answer for. And they can deploy it not in the largely phony war of race engineer rows and social media tit-for-tats, but where it matters: On the track.

Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, Red Bull Ring, 2024
Poll: Did the stewards react correctly to escalating Verstappen-Norris feud?
McLaren’s upswing in form coincided with a slump in Sergio Perez’s performances. The second Red Bull driver began the season well with three podiums from the first five races. But he’s been nowhere since then: In the last six rounds he hasn’t spent a single lap inside the top four. The only useful service he’s provided to Verstappen in that time is collecting a grid penalty in Canada in order to avoid triggering a Safety Car appearance.

Perez’s less experienced opposite number at McLaren, however, is increasingly a force to be reckoned with. Oscar Piastri has had a pair of second places in the past five races, and would have more had it not been for qualifying penalties at Imola (an impeding incident largely out of his control) and Red Bull Ring (a borderline track limits call).

Verstappen has proven himself capable of fighting off one McLaren. But unlike in 2021, Perez is not playing a useful number two role, and Austria’s sprint race showed the kind of two-pronged attack Verstappen can expect more of from this weekend, where McLaren were in superb form 12 months ago.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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41 comments on “McLaren joins Red Bull in the social media war – but its key weapon is Piastri”

  1. Dear Keith
    In the 2023 Austria Sprint, Max fought Perez ruthlessly … in the first lap … Earlier that season, with a total WDC sweep already looming and just a few laps away from another dominant win, I forget where, Lambiase begged Max not to go for the FL, ‘totally unnecessary’ Reply ? I think it is … He duly got it. In my opinion this is the quintessential Max : 100% , never 99,9 … He said so himself many times : winning is all, if it results in a WDC, great

    1. The Red Bull driver would not have wasted such a move on a driver he did not regard as a genuine threat. He didn’t make Charles Leclerc fight that hard over the same win two years ago, even with a smaller championship lead

      This demonstrates little insight into how Max operates. It is merely used as an effort to uplift Lando. But Lando is no different as any other to Max.

  2. And then people wonder why there’s hate between groups of fans..? As if the milking of this incident in the media isn’t enough on its own.

    Yes, Verstappen was in the wrong. But while his signature wheel-on-wheel positioning raises questions about what it means for wheel-to-wheel racing, some are raising the art of overreacting to a whole new level. Sad to see the teams jump on the bandwagon too.

    1. +1 excellent comment, fully agree.

    2. It’s the WWE-ification, they’re working themselves into shoots.

    3. Tribalism sells in a way that other approaches dont. Of course all of f1 will attempt to capitalise, and has.

      Fans should just be smarter and more aware they are being manipulated.

      1. Tribalism sells … Fans should just be smarter and more aware they are being manipulated.

        and American voters.

      2. Fans should be smarter …. In my long life never seen that or expect this untill the end of Humankind.

    4. I fully agree. And what always surprised me is that everyone is in each other’s hair, but never some one calls out the Media for their role in all of this. They actively feed these kind of situations over and over. They never take responsibility for feeding this and have no moral compass whatsoever, just a revenue compass. I have heard (and maybe it is just a rumour… I sincerely hope so) that Sky even broadcasted a compilation of Max’ most dramatic crashes, ramping up to the British GP. And then after the GP we can debate over if booing Max on the podium is ok…

  3. Karma is a funny thing…..
    I wonder if Perez is remembering “Not my job to help Sergio Perez secure second in championship”…..

    1. It is his job to help secure the constructors championship though. He’s definitely forgot that one.

      1. It’s also redbulls job, the senior team leaders job, to help secure the constructor’s championship. They signed a way off pace Perez (since last season at least). They definitely forgot that one. Lol

    2. Why do you think Perez got a 2 year contract ….. but if he isn’t usefull for the team he is out before you can say Karma.

  4. Stephen Taylor
    3rd July 2024, 17:32

    Norris shouldn’t just also be worried about Verstappen he should also be worried about Piastri.

    1. Norris really got the bad bit on Sunday. Best cause scenario after the contact might have been Norris 46 points behind max. Now though it’s 81. There’s still a title shot but only with Norris so if McLaren want to try, that have to back him now.

    2. I keep seeing people saying this, but tire management is not just about how hard you run and when in the stint. A huge % of tire preservation cannot be learned. It’s a natural function of the sensitivity in your right foot to wheel slip in traction out of corner and managing yaw and corner angles. Most drivers have shown a talent for making tires last longer and better from the get go.

      Hard to judge somewhat in Hamilton’s rookie case cause traction control came in during his rookie year, he had 1k+ km of testing and the field switched to Bridgestone while FA had been using Michelins + got little test miles. So, let alone a learning curve, he probably had an advantage. Either way, he was excellent then and throughout his career in tire management. While Heikki initially was on the one lap pace with Hamilton, he was running through tires exponentially faster.

      1. Nah, the way that these tyres are talked about is that they have a particular ‘setup’ the driver needs to understand when to push the tyres to get them up to temperature without overheating to quickly, this set up can effect the tyre performance for the rest of the stint. The comments around Piastri regarding working the tyres aren’t based on his inputs, rather and understanding of how the tyres feel during different stages of the process of bringing them up to optimum performance.

  5. Yes, Verstappen was in the wrong. But while his signature wheel-on-wheel positioning raises questions about what it means for wheel-to-wheel racing

    It isn’t a “signature wheel-on-wheel positioning” that anyone has issues with, it’s his signature double-move-in-the-braking-zone that people, including the stewards, have issues with.
    It’s covered by a rule. He keeps breaking it when he has to compete rather than just take a Sunday jaunt around the track in front of slower cars.

    1. Interesting this often placed remark.
      To move under braking there must be one essential aspect: you have to brake!
      When you look at the pictures you will see ver moving a little ( some even called it micro moves) while the drs of lando is open.
      So he is not using his brakes!!!
      Probably the reason even Herbert was unable to find a reason to penalise ver.

      1. Its either moving under braking or waiving on straights. His multiple change of line and late movements were easy to see.

        1. Ah, you made it a Muliple choice.
          Sorry for you but thats not how it works.

          1. Its your allowed to move off line to defend, you can then return to your line and stick to it and that’s it, Max moves off line, then back that’s ok but then he chooses a line that isn’t straight as you can see from both track side and Lando’s camera, this makes the car travel across the track.
            It’s only a matter of time before this will result in wheel to wheel surface contact and the car behind will be airborne, most probably doing a flip in the 100 to 150mph range…. mark my words, its only a matter of time.

          2. denying reality again?

      2. Interesting this often placed remark.

        Truth does that, it has this tendency to surface time and time again, through all the distraction chaff.

        To move under braking there must be one essential aspect: you have to brake!

        Braking zone was the phrase I used, but you knew that.

        1. Another grey area, define braking zone.. and no its not the same as the distance boards trackside..

  6. A big problem is that the McLaren management can’t seem to their head cool in this situation. The reaction of Stella is very immature.

    1. Oh yeah, big problem for sure, unlike the cool heads of Horner and Wolff… Give me a break.

    2. It does show that mclaren as a team needs a lot of growth and maturing.
      To compare this incident, a touch between two cars with the toxic situation in 2021 is dubious.
      But if stella wants to reach the depts horner and wolff reached, he is on the right track.

      1. It is indeed disappointing to see him join that dubious pack of toddlers. I can’t wait for this bunch to retire. They are an absolute disgrace to all sports and the worst example to our youth.

      2. To compare this incident, a touch between two cars with the toxic situation in 2021 is dubious.

        One common driver, doing the same dodgy driving. Apart from that, the only toxic thing(s) were off track 21 and 24

    3. Nope, he’s doing his job. Can you imagine Horner behaving any different?

      1. Can you imagine Horner behaving any different?

        Sadly, yes. No imagination required.
        Stella was pretty calm when you think back to Horner and his 2021 rants/accusations.

        1. That’s normal: 2021 was a full blown title battle, this is just some occasional racing for the win, there’s no championship battle and there’s been no silverstone 2021.

    4. Yeah and over the top immediately. On the links that were provided to X/social; that RedBull one is rather funny. Pity McLaren doesn’t get the humour and comes with an attempt to seriously influence/debate the situation (which is about nothing, it is just that the media is trying to milk it). They do it with a British presenter however so credibility is close to zero. F1 really needs to step up their game in terms of inclusion.

  7. Mr Squiggle
    3rd July 2024, 23:22

    Yes Mclaren have a better number 2 driver. Piastri may be number 1 at Mclaren soon.

    This is whythe RB team may re-sig/n Daniel Ric. If sergio stays in the bottom half of the top ten, Horner will need a stronger 2nd driver

    1. It doesn’t look like he’s anywhere near norris’ level, the points gap is massive and would be even bigger if not for the norris-verstappen crash, though he’s good enough to make mclaren’s a really strong line up, while perez drags red bull’s line up down significantly.

  8. I find your assessment of the Leclerc battle a tad myopic. Don’t you remember him literally pulling the same exact tactics and then punting Leclerc off the track yet the stewards gave him no penalty? Aldas does a great side-by-side comparison of the battles he had at that turn with Norris, Leclerc (and I think Hamilton) + then showed how Hamilton and Vettel raced each other at that same exact corner for comparison. It’s incredibly illustrative.

  9. It is considered a sign of weakness if you can not win the battle on the track but have to resort to off-track antics. I said it in 2021 and I will say it again. No, it’s not part of any psychological warfare. It is a sign of weakness. Weakness and lack of confidence. It says more about your character than anything else. If you need it in any sports environment it means you are already on the back foot.

  10. Teams and drivers alike know that the first opportunity to present their side of a dispute occurs on the radio.

    If there’s one aspect that is completely ridiculous about modern Formula 1 it has to be drivers and engineers making these bogus comments to eachother during a race, in an attempt to sway favour with the Stewards. So many drivers now just completely exaggerate the severity of a move from a rival on the track, and the race engineer always explicitly confirms that the rival driver was completely in the wrong. While it’s great that FOM share more of the radio communication during a race, I find this whining during the race to be dumb and pretty pointless overall.

    I can’t imagine that the Stewards pay any attention to the comments that drivers or engineers are making. I presume they pay much greater attention to the actual footage of the incident, or onboard footage that show what the driver was doing, in order to make a fair judgement on specific incidents. I’m not having a go at Lando or Max specifically for this race – they seem to be just continuing the prevailing trend. The fact that it’s so prolific now is just laughable.

    1. Yes, have to agree with that, complaining about every kind of move and the engineer always deeming his driver right is very typical in recent years and annoying.

  11. Just lol wot at the whole article

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