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Should the FIA clamp down on Verstappen-style defending? Our F1 writers have their say

The crash between Max Verstappen and Lando Norris in the Austrian Grand Prix reignited the debate about the limits of defensive driving and the consequences the drivers should face when they go too far.

So is it time for the FIA to clamp down on defensive tactics like Verstappen’s, or should we accept this is all part of racing? 

Here are our writers’ views.

F1 needs more regulation to stop Verstappen tactics 

F1 and the FIA are now in the same situation they were when 2021 ended. Because back then, leaving Verstappen to understand that tactics such as those he’d deployed at Interlagos Turn 4 were on for the sake of the spectacle under the ‘let them race’ directive meant he further internalised his already brutal approach to racing. That led directly to the disgraceful scenes of Jeddah 2021.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, hits Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, at the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP

Photo by: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As McLaren is already calling for, the FIA must now clamp down on Verstappen’s braking zone movements from Austria. It must do so with additional clarification and explanation of F1’s racing rules guidelines.

Surely, it must also make these public – the checks and balances element of media questioning of F1’s race director infuriatingly gone since Abu Dhabi 2021.

That race is important to this point because, having finally been penalised for his outrageous defending in taking to run-offs against Lewis Hamilton in Jeddah, Verstappen made sure he stayed on track in his Abu Dhabi lap one attack. If he’s reigned in, he’s shown he’s too good to not respond.

At the same time, the clamour for F1 to finally implement permanent stewards that attend every race is now unignorable. The argument that such a body might be open to influence is flimsy when the same is theoretically equally true of the temporary stewarding panels.

Yes, F1 racing officiating might become just as contentious (and tedious) as football’s VAR, but it already is. The genie speaking with driver team radio outburst whines just isn’t going back in the bottle.

F1 should therefore embrace it, even make it further part of the show – as is done in other very contentiously officiated sports, such as the NFL. That might even be fun.

Alex Kalinauckas

Let the stewards, not the rulebook, decide

Every sport requires rules that all participants adhere to. That’s particularly true in professional sports where the stakes are high and everyone is looking for the slightest edge. There’s a reason that the most established sports have the biggest rulebooks.

But in some circumstances, the ever-more restricted nature of the regulations makes the job of policing more difficult and leads to decisions that appear incorrect. The sporting guidelines concerning wheel-to-wheel racing in Formula 1 have suffered from that in recent years.

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 by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

It doesn’t matter how many rules you have, for example, about how far front wheels need to be alongside a rival’s car for the attacker to be granted space, there will always be circumstances that don’t quite fit. There are too many variables; the relative speeds of the cars, the timing of moves and the radius, width and idiosyncrasies of each corner.

Every incident is slightly different and applying stringent rules removes the finesse and nuance required to make the correct decision. There’s been a similar problem in the Euro 2024 football championship, with handballs and offsides given because they technically fit the current criteria but that nobody thought was a transgression.

The referees had to make the decisions they did because of the way the rules are written. The decisions usually make sense given the prevailing laws and precedents, whether it’s football or F1.

Having a specific rule also opens the door to pushing it to (or beyond) the limit. Michael Schumacher famously used to leave his ‘one move’ until the last possible moment, thereby technically sticking to the rules but actually creating potentially dangerous situations.

Similarly, did there need to be a ‘Verstappen rule’ about moving in the braking zones? I’d argue no, because all of the above and more can be covered by a ‘dangerous or unfair driving’ guideline.

Those with experience and knowledge of the sport agree on 99% of incidents, even if clashes split opinion among fans. It’s obvious to most drivers where the line is of what’s right and wrong – just look at the cool-down room response to Max Verstappen’s move on Lando Norris in Austria from George Russell, Oscar Piastri and Carlos Sainz – so those that don’t, or choose not to, stand out.

The idea of having everything covered by hard-and-fast rules seems like a great idea in theory but hasn’t worked in practice and never will. So let’s look less at regulation and more at giving the stewards – permanent or otherwise – the freedom to make the right calls for real life rather than something on paper.

Kevin Turner

Stewards already have the right tools to act

The Norris-Verstappen clash in Austria shows that regulating motor racing is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, we want fair racing, and drivers correctly penalised for endangering others. But on the other, we also want drivers to push their cars and each other to the limits without fear of receiving penalties for every single time they get it wrong.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, battle for the lead

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, battle for the lead

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The short-lived Verstappen rule, implemented throughout the 2016 season to curb moving under braking, has long gone and was quickly replaced by a catch-all clause that covers potentially dangerous and erratic driving.

The arguments to bring it back are somewhat understandable, but if the Austria stewards felt Verstappen had moved under braking to the extent that he had strayed into the ‘dangerous driving’ territory, then they would have acted upon it. They already have the tools to do so now.

So, the discussion shouldn’t be about adding or rephrasing the rules themselves, but about whether or not Verstappen’s moves were dangerous, and with a rotating stewards panel you will always have trouble getting a consistent answer to that.

Let’s get the third move that actually led to contact out of the way first. Verstappen drifted back towards the outside to squeeze Norris, was deemed at fault for the resulting contact, and was handed a 10-second penalty. If you want to judge an action without judging the – in this case race-ending -consequences and have consistency across decisions, then it is hard to argue with.

Norris and McLaren are at least as aggrieved by what happened before, when Norris made two attempts to pass on the inside and Verstappen twice jinked towards the middle of the track to intimidate Norris.

Both moves were clearly in reaction to his rival, but Verstappen got away with it as the stewards didn’t feel he had moved over enough for it to be dangerous.

It is a very fine line for the stewards to judge. Moving an inch or two under braking isn’t necessarily dangerous, while chopping across someone entirely can have catastrophic consequences, especially on street circuits.

In any case, if Verstappen laid down a marker in Austria, then so did Norris, who showed Verstappen that he is no pushover.

Verstappen won’t change his uncompromising attitude, but he now has enough information on the McLaren driver’s steel to think twice before crowding him off the road.

If he does cross the line again, the FIA stewards must use the tools already at their disposal to intervene rather than sit on the fence and wait for the inevitable collision.

A bigger issue is Norris being handed a five-second penalty for a final strike against track limits. Penalising drivers for unforced errors against track limits is one thing, but punishing them for going off while fighting for position, when no lasting advantage is gained, is just anti-racing. It discourages drivers from having a go at each other, which is what we all want to see.

Filip Cleeren

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