Max Verstappen is known for being a tough-as-nails racer on-track, but the ruthless Dutchman has shown an unexpected softness over his friendship with Lando Norris.

Verstappen and Norris are well-known for their off-track friendship, with the duo spending plenty of quality social time together during their respective downtime, but that closeness has been threatened by their burgeoning on-track rivalry.

Max Verstappen and Lando Norris make amends after Austria clash

It’s long-established that drivers at the peak of competition simply cannot be friends. It’s an impossible task – no matter how well-intentioned the competitors may be, no matter how calm and measured they are when the red mist fades, the nature of racing for victories and championships means it’s nigh-on impossible for tensions not to set in.

While those tensions can generally fade over time, allowing the personalities to resume their friendship once the sporting aspect of their relationship dies down, this can be a lengthy process – if it even happens at all.

It’s one of the fascinating storylines of F1 at present then that two of F1’s leading men – Norris and Verstappen – have found themselves pitched against each other for rival teams, with very little to separate the Red Bull and McLaren over the course of a Grand Prix.

While it can be ugly, it’s easier for there to be acrimony between rivals. It leaves no uncertainty over how to behave with each other, no reason to force awkward civility for the sake of social convenience, and allows the situation to be much more clearcut than the alternative. Just think how Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton abandoned their long friendship once a title was on the line, or how even Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton – while never reaching that level of tension – had their moments.

It’s intriguing to see, then, how Norris and Verstappen are doing their best to keep their friendship alive, having taken a serious hit when their cars glanced against each other at Turn 3 in the closing stages of the Austrian Grand Prix.

The immediate aftermath resulted in high tempers on Sunday evening, particularly aimed at Verstappen by an emotional Norris and McLaren, with the Dutchman holding his ground but not quite pointing squarely back at Norris for his part in the incident.

Facing the press for the first time since his immediate post-race interviews on Sunday, Verstappen’s media session on Thursday thus showed an uncharacteristic softness as he made it clear just how much his relationship with Norris really means to him. Perhaps having had the benefit of a few additional years in F1 under his belt, including dealing with a strained relationship with Hamilton in 2021, Verstappen spoke with maturity about how he is eager to ensure his friendship survives.

“The only thing that I care about is maintaining my relationship with Lando, because we are great friends,” he said, after revealing he’d woken up to a text from Norris on Monday morning.

“After the race, I said we have to just let things cool down because emotions run high. We spoke on Monday and I think we came to the conclusion that we actually really enjoyed our battle.

“But we looked at the incident, and it was such a silly little touch that had, of course, great consequences for both of us. Naturally, a bit more for Lando with how the puncture then evolved.

“But we like to race hard – we’ve done this for many years, not only in F1, even like online racing where we’ve had a lot of fun together. These things have to carry on, because that’s what we like to do. I think it’s great for Formula 1 as well.”

Norris, speaking in the FIA press conference, also showed that his stance had softened with a few days having passed since the high emotions of Austria.

“Honestly, I don’t think he needed to apologise,” the British driver said when asked about his calls for an apology from the Dutchman.

“I think some of the things I said in the pen after the race were just more just because I was frustrated at the time. A lot of adrenaline, a lot of just emotions. And I probably said some things I didn’t necessarily believe in, especially later on in the week.

“It was tough. It was a pretty pathetic incident in terms of what ended both our races. It wasn’t like a hit, it wasn’t like an obvious bit of contact. It was probably one of the smallest bits of contact you could have, but with a pretty terrible consequence for both of us, especially for myself.

“He didn’t doesn’t need to… I don’t expect an apology from him. I don’t think he should apologise. I thought it was, as a review, good racing. At times, maybe very close to the edge but like we said we’ve spoken about it we’ve talked about it and we’re both happy to go racing again.”

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Max Verstappen makes importance of Lando Norris friendship known

While Verstappen’s sole focus in F1 is victory, with the Dutch driver well known for his utterly unshakeable self-belief and, when necessary, ruthlessness, his comments on how important his friendship with Norris really is to him shed light on the softer side of Verstappen.

This side of him is frequently shown on his sim racing livestreams, where he indulges in playtime in his role as a ‘stepdad’ to Penny, his partner Kelly Piquet’s daughter. Verstappen’s loyalty to his family and friends has been highlighted by those closest to him, with that loyalty evident in his relationship with Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko, in particular – to the point where he all but said he’d leave Red Bull if Marko wasn’t kept in his post.

But, when it comes to competitors, his comments on Norris show that, perhaps, victories and championships won’t mean quite as much to him if it means losing a close friend – a thought that seemed implausible until now.

With Norris and Verstappen both confirming they’d spoken on Monday after leaving Austria, the reigning World Champion was asked about his position from Sunday evening.

“I just said that we had to let things cool off a bit and we’ll look at the footage. That’s what I did with Lando,” he said.

“That’s the only one that I care about. Because, whatever anyone else said, that’s not for me.

“Everyone can have an opinion but I only look at the relationship of things and my relationship with Lando.”

As for the discussion itself, Verstappen said he and Norris had agreed on “99 percent” of their assessment of the contentious battle, saying he understood Norris’ anger when speaking to the press straight afterward.

“I think it also depends a bit on your personalities,” he said.

“I know he’s a great guy. He’s a really nice person who loves Formula 1 and loves racing, he’s just very passionate about it, naturally, after the race.

“So you also have to realise he’s fighting for a second potential win, I’m finding for a 62nd win.

“I think, naturally, your emotions are a little bit different.

“Because I know that from myself when I was fighting for my first wins in F1, but that’s fine. That’s why I also said to let it just cool off a bit and we’ll talk tomorrow.

“I always say to Lando like, when you go for moves up the inside, the outside, you can trust me that I’m not there to try and crash you out of the way.

“And the same the other way round, because we spoke about that as well.

“Naturally, there’s always a human reaction when someone dives up the inside or outside that you have a bit of a reaction to it. But I felt everything that I did was nothing massively over the top.

“Like how you design a car, you try to go to the edge of the rules. Maybe you find some grey areas here and there as a car, and that’s the same how you race because, otherwise, you will never be a top driver and you will never succeed in life anyway.”

Max Verstappen: I’m OK with Lando Norris, and that’s all I’m concerned about

With Verstappen heading into the belly of the beast this weekend as he heads to Silverstone to face a British public in full adoration of a resurgent McLaren willing Norris on for victory, the Dutchman is likely to be a pantomime villain in the eyes of the partisan audience.

But the atmosphere awaiting Verstappen – whether it be a vocal but good-natured acknowledgement from the crowd of his role as said villain, or something uglier – isn’t something that concerns him, a position much more in line with his usual characteristics.

“Lando and I are good friends, and we spoke about it. So, for us, everything is cleared,” he said when asked about the possibility of facing a crowd that might not be enamoured with him this weekend.

“That’s the most important. I’m OK with Lando, and that’s the only thing that I’m concerned about. I get on really well with Lando. That’s why for me also, we are fighting for wins this year and I don’t want that to ruin the friendship off track as well because that’s definitely not what what it deserves.

As for whether he’s feeling bruised following the berating he’s taken from the media as well as some prominent analysts and paddock figures, Verstappen told PlanetF1.com in no uncertain terms that it’s of no concern to him.

“I don’t give a s**t about that,” he bluntly said.

“I go home, I live my life.

“The only thing that I cared about is just my relationship with Lando.”

What will be interesting to watch over the coming weeks and months is how this position evolves – on both sides. After all, with an 81-point lead in the championship and half a championship season to go, it’s easy to extend an olive branch in both directions. If another incident or two happens between them and it results in a tightening championship battle, can the two friends’ admirable attempts to keep it alive be kept up?

History suggests it could be a stern challenge but, if anyone can do it, it’s F1’s brightest and best…

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