Verstappen understands Norris' decision to reject Red Bull chance

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Lando Norris’ decision to extend his allegiance to McLaren beyond 2025 was seen by some as a missed opportunity for the young Briton to land a plum drive with Red Bull, but Max Verstappen understands his friend’s choice.

Formula 1’s 2023 campaign had seen Norris’ stock trend steadily higher following the inception in Austria of McLaren’s upgrade programme.

The team’s MCL60 contender went from strength-to-strength over the summer, carrying Norris to even podiums, including six runner-up spots and allowing the Briton to become the second top points scorer in the second half of the season behind Red Bull’s Verstappen.

McLaren subsequently made every effort to lock in the services of their home-grown star for the long term, and McLaren racing boss Zak Brown’s arguments were apparently compelling enough to convince the 24-year-old to continue his journey started with the team in 2019.

Over the years, and even more recently, Norris and Red Bull held discussions about a possible partnership. But ultimately, the young Briton shunned the allure of Red Bull and the chance to challenge Verstappen.

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When asked if fear had been a factor in his decision – the unease of going up against his mighty close friend in a team known to prioritize its star driver, Norris alluded to much more elaborate reasons.

“I think it’s a longer discussion than just saying that,” he told Sky Sports.

“Is Max one of the best drivers ever in Formula 1? Absolutely. I think he’s proved that enough.

“He’s in a team which he’s very comfortable in, a lot of things are built around him, so for anyone – even the Max of a few years ago – to go in against the Max of now is extremely difficult.

“So I don’t think it’s a question of: are you scared or not scared? I don’t think I’d ever be scared of going up against anyone.

“But even if you enter a team, are you in a position to challenge someone straight away? And are you comfortable to do that?

“And I think it’s a ‘no’ – for any driver. It takes time to adapt and takes time to get into place.

“And if you want to go against the best driver in the world, it’s not the best thing to do. It’s not a smart move to do.

“But I would love to race against Max. I’ve enjoyed some of our battles that we’ve had and I’m looking even more forward to the battles that we’re going to have this year.”

At last week’s launch of Red Bull’s RB20, Verstappen addressed Norris' assertion that his younger self would face difficulties against his current version.

“If I look back at myself four years ago, compared to now, you are a bit more calm and experienced,” the Dutchman explained.

“And that in some scenarios can make a difference, probably winning a championship helps as well, but it would be quite exciting to have my four-year younger self to team up against my current one.

“I am not afraid of a challenge, it’s cool to race the best in the world.”

Nevertheless, Verstappen understood Norris’ decision, recognizing the value of loyalty and the prospect of building something together, of being the architect of their own success.

“But from his [Lando’s] side, I don’t know what’s going on in the team there,” he said.

“And when you feel really happy and confident with the people you are with, and they’ve [McLaren] been on a positive trajectory, you also think to yourself: ‘Maybe I don’t need to leave and I can make this a success.’”

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