Max Verstappen & Lando Norris heat up Formula 1 ahead of Silverstone: 7 focal points

The World Championship may not have become any closer, but the atmosphere ahead of the twelfth race of Formula 1 in 2024 is more heated than it has been for two years. After Max Verstappen and his closest rival in the table, Lando Norris, collided in the battle for victory, there is anger in the air ahead of Silverstone.

Focus 1: Friendship ended with Max?

On Thursday, Max Verstappen and Lando Norris will appear before the Formula 1 media again in Silverstone. The last time they met on Sunday evening in Austria, less than an hour had passed since the two collided in the battle for victory in Turn 3. Verstappen, for whose World Championship ambitions such a collision is little more than a small speed bump with an 81-point lead in the 2024 table, had coolly and calculatedly denied any responsibility.

The expert opinions of the last few days also tended towards Motorsport-Magazin.com to argue against the penalty for Verstappen. “Unnecessary and overheated by both of them,” Alexander Wurz stated, and Christian Danner emphasised: “There is also a Mr Norris who played a part in this.”

Danner: Norris just as much to blame for the crash as Verstappen! (30:00 min.)

Verstappen and Norris, who are friends off the track, avoided each other immediately after the race. Sensible, as Verstappen said. Better to cool down and then talk about it. Unlike at some other races, they were not traveling in the same private jet in Austria. So perhaps the most important question is: Did they have a clarifying conversation?

Norris made it clear on Sunday that he expected Verstappen to take the first step: “If he says he hasn’t done anything wrong, then I’ll lose a lot of respect for him.” On Wednesday before his home GP, he made a brief guest appearance on British radio: “I’ve looked at everything, gone through everything, and let’s just say I wouldn’t really change anything.”

Norris has already taken his foot off the gas verbally: “This is the competition we love. We want to go out there and race hard. Then we want to keep it easy because we just want to win, but when we have to fight in a race, it puts a smile on our faces.” How they get along off the track may shape their next encounter at Silverstone. Where two drivers – Charles Leclerc in 2019 and Lewis Hamilton in 2021 – have already felt compelled to try to just take it to the next duel after repeated confrontations.

Focus 2: Red Bull already beaten without perfection in Silverstone?

Before Silverstone, it seems doubtful whether anyone other than Verstappen and Norris will play a role. Since China, there has only been one race in which these two did not decide the victory between themselves. In Austria, the eventual winner George Russell was already an insurmountable 15 seconds behind before the big crash.

The Austrian finish, however, underlines an observation of recent weeks: Red Bull and Verstappen have to be almost perfect to win. In Imola, Montreal and Barcelona they were. In Spielberg the RB20 seemed a little better than the MCL38, which resulted in a small qualifying cushion. But after a minimal misjudgment of the weather during setup and three seconds wasted during the pit stop, the race was more than a little in danger.

This underlines how close the relationship is between the two. Who likes Silverstone? A very interesting question indeed. McLaren made its breakthrough last year. The car was famous for its strength in the (numerous) high-speed corners. However, the team is now looking for ways to gain ground in slow corners and has sacrificed high speed to do so. A new front wing introduced in Austria should help balance both areas. So the setup will probably be decisive again.

Focus 3: Ferrari jumps into unexpected F1 mini-crisis

When it comes to high-speed corners, one team immediately comes to mind that suddenly no longer plays a role here: Ferrari. The last update introduced in Barcelona does indeed deliver the promised downforce, but at what price? Obviously new bouncing in fast passages. This can be eliminated with the setup – but it undermines the balance in other types of corners.

Charles Leclerc can live better with the problems in the high-speed area, but it is not sustainable to simply accept instability there. This is shown by Carlos Sainz, who is apparently more susceptible to it. The problems have pushed Ferrari out of the ranks of the candidates for victory. There is a serious danger at Silverstone: the track is famous for high-speed passages, but also has critical slow sections with the Inner Loop, Brooklands and Vale. Not a good omen.

Focus 4: Mercedes is on cloud nine

Ferrari’s pain is Mercedes’ joy. Well, maybe not for the soon-to-be Scuderia driver Lewis Hamilton, but after the victory in Austria the team is travelling to the home race highly motivated. Barcelona, ​​for example, was a race where they were generally good in the ground effect era. But the fact that they were also fast enough in Austria to sit in a winning position directly behind the dominant Verstappen and Norris now seems to finally confirm the breakthrough.

It is still too early to present Mercedes as a contender for victory. But for how long? Now that the team has taken the right direction, the update program has been given full approval. “Updates at almost every race,” was Toto Wolff’s announcement in Austria. He dares to hope for the next measurable step after the summer break: “It was 15 seconds in 70 laps. What is that? Less than two tenths [pro Runde]. That’s fine. That’s P3 and if we can hopefully halve that, we’ll be fighting up front.”

Focus 5: Racing Bulls suddenly in the danger zone

The Racing Bulls also went full throttle in the update race. They paid dearly for that in Barcelona. It took two races before the advanced parts were actually understood. After experiments, they will equip both cars with the same package in Silverstone and find their way back to the top of the midfield. But it’s damn tight here and a misstep like that could prove expensive.

Haas cashed in big in Austria with 12 points. Now only 11 points behind the Racing Bulls, they have tasted blood. The team’s second major update package is coming in Silverstone. It is the first one that is intended to actively reduce the car’s high-speed weakness. There really is no better time for it. With Alpine also moving up, the battle for P6 in the World Championship could quickly become tight again.

Focus 6: Sainz is testing the patience of the driver market too much

Meanwhile, the Formula 1 driver market is starting to get nervous. Sauber, Alpine and Williams would like to have Carlos Sainz, but are they really prepared to completely surrender to his stalling? It seems increasingly likely that someone at the back will soon run out of patience and that the first dominoes could start to fall even without a Sainz decision.

Carlos Sainz Jr.  at the Styrian Green Carpet
Not the kind of signature that the majority of Formula 1 is currently hoping for, Photo: Philip Platzer / Red Bull Ring

How they will fall remains unclear. But Pierre Gasly is now one of the Alpines. Haas, currently without a driver and not in the Sainz race, could soon give the second push. The British tabloids placed Ferrari junior Ollie Bearman there weeks ago. After that, the veterans Bottas, Ocon and Magnussen would probably jump at the chance if a fixed deal could be made. Otherwise (at least) one of them will be left behind.

Focus 7: Rookie party in the first Silverstone training

Semi-fitting with the driver market theories: Several teams are putting rookies in the car for the first practice session in Silverstone to fulfill their duty in accordance with the regulations. Bearman is allowed to drive again for Haas, this time in Kevin Magnussen’s car. It is already his third FP1. It is number two for Jack Doohan, who is sitting in the Alpine instead of Pierre Gasly.

Doohan also drove a 2022 car with Mick Schumacher in an internal test on Wednesday. The two are vying for the cockpit that is still open. And finally, Williams is putting Franco Colapinto in Logan Sargeant’s car. The current fifth overall in Formula 2 is also a driver in the Williams junior squad.

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