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Lando Norris

Norris Austrian u-turn hands Verstappen critical advantage

Lando Norris has performed quite a stunning 180 on the Max Verstappen incident from the Austrian Grand Prix - but what will the long-term implications be?

Norris Verstappen Austria
To news overview © XPBimages

Lando Norris and Max Verstappen's clash at the Austrian Grand Prix felt like the defining moment of the season so far.

However, just four days after some pretty explosive post-race comments from the McLaren driver about the incident, he moved to distance himself from those remarks - and, crucially - almost completely row back from his Sunday evening stance.

The stark contrast between Norris' words in the aftermath of the collision with Verstappen that ended his grand prix at the Red Bull Ring and what he said at Silverstone media day four days later could not be more pronounced. It was quite extraordinary.

In the melée in Spielberg, the British driver called the triple-world champion "reckless, desperate and aggressive". 

There was little doubt he felt the 10-second penalty awarded to the Dutchman for moving in the braking zone of Turn 3 was justified.

Further still, he went as far as saying he would "lose a lot of respect" for the Red Bull driver if he did not take responsibility for the crash.

The pair did not travel back from Austria together like they often do following race weekends, although both confirmed they would speak ahead of the British Grand Prix.

In the Thursday press conference, the juxtaposition in Norris' latest comments was clear. The PR approach would have been to stand by his prior remarks and prevent adding further fuel to the flames.

But the 24-year-old went one step further. He completely backtracked on what he said in an astonishing about-face.

"Honestly, I don't think he needed to apologise," he told media including RacingNews365. "I think some of the things I said in the pen after the race were more just because I was frustrated at the time. A lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotions.

"And I probably said some things I didn't necessarily believe in... I don't expect an apology from him. I don't think he should apologise." 

He went on to add: "I don't think it really should have been a big penalty at all, or even if a penalty, at the end of the day."

When pressed for a definitive answer on whether he felt Verstappen should have been penalised by the stewards, he offered a mere "no comment."

To beat Verstappen, you have to fight fire with fire and you cannot be afraid of getting burned.

Verstappen now knows Norris will back down

There appears to be division between drivers who generally have viewed the incident to be "hard racing", and pundits and journalists - including former drivers - who have judged the penalty to be justified.

However, Norris' change in opinion, at least publicly, leaves him exposed. F1 is as much a battle of the mind as a fight between technical ability and machine. Wheel-to-wheel racing can at times be distilled down to nothing more than psychological warfare.

And with his recent concession, the McLaren driver has just handed Verstappen a massive advantage. The Dutchman now knows that in the heat of combat Norris is willing to back down. If needs be, he can force the Briton to submit to his uncompromising racing style.

It puts Norris on the back foot. We do not know what has been said in private, and there is little point in speculating, but that in no way lessens the intrigue.

What it suggests is that Verstappen holds the upper hand in their relationship and that from Norris' perspective, there is perhaps an emphasis on maintaining their friendship.

The power dynamics at play were no-more evident than when the Red Bull driver confirmed it was, in fact, Norris who reached out to him first on Monday morning.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Norris has fumbled his 'welcome to the NFL' moment

The outcome of Norris' sudden change in heart will not be known until the two next battle on track. That may happen at Silverstone.

However, the danger for Norris is that it has shown weakness to an undeniably ruthless opponent. To beat Verstappen, you have to fight fire with fire and you cannot be afraid of getting burned.

Whether Norris realises it yet or not, it paints the picture of indecision and a driver who does not want to ruffle any feathers; a driver who is not quite ready to fight a formidable opponent week-in-week-out no matter the cost. It hands Verstappen a crucial advantage for then they next go wheel-to-wheel.

I was impressed by the defiant tone Norris struck in Austria and was hopeful he had learned from the skirmish with his friend. That was the required response, not the conciliatory approach he has since adopted.

It was Norris' 'welcome to the NFL' moment and I cannot help but feel he fumbled the ball.

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