Lando Norris hits back at Max Verstappen ‘fear’ accusations over Red Bull rumours

Oliver Harden
Lando Norris, McLaren and Max Verstappen, Red Bull

Lando Norris and Max Verstappen chat on the grid at Suzuka 2023.

Lando Norris has rejected accusations that he was afraid of becoming Max Verstappen’s team-mate, but confessed that a move to Red Bull would not have been a “smart move” for his F1 career.

McLaren announced on Friday that Norris had signed a new long-term contract, ending months of speculation over a potential switch to Constructors’ Champions Red Bull.

Having emerged as one of the sport’s brightest talents since arriving on the grid in 2019, Norris had been regarded as a potential candidate to succeed Sergio Perez – whose current Red Bull deal is due to expire at the end of this year – as Verstappen’s team-mate.

Lando Norris admits Red Bull move ‘not smart’

Norris appeared to open the door to becoming Verstappen’s team-mate last season, telling media including it “would be great to work alongside” and measure himself against a driver of the three-time World Champion’s calibre.

Verstappen has cemented his place alongside the greatest drivers in F1 history of recent years, winning 44 of the last 66 races, with Perez the latest in a long line of Red Bull team-mates – including Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon – to struggle alongside the Dutchman.

After agreeing his new deal with McLaren, Norris has dismissed the suggestion that he is running scared of Verstappen by not pursuing a move to Red Bull – insisting any driver would struggle to match Verstappen in the same team.

Asked if he was fearful of taking on Verstappen in identical machinery, he told Sky Sports: “I think it’s a longer discussion than just saying that.

“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.”

Put to him that he could replicate Verstappen’s Red Bull success at McLaren, Norris replied: “That’s the plan.” recommends

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Norris went on to admit that he held talks with other teams, but decided to stay after being encouraged by McLaren’s progress in recovering from a slow start to last season to emerge as Red Bull’s most consistent threat.

He explained: “There’s always discussions every now and then.

“I’m not going to lie and say no, there’s always little discussions and you talk to people and see ‘what could you offer’ kind of thing, but it never went further than that.

“Considering we are talking about the most competitive and successful car in the history of Formula 1 over a season – and I think you have to include the driver in that too – how close we got at certain places with where we started the season I think was pretty impressive.

“To go from out of the points pretty much every single race to being probably the closest team on average to the most successful car that’s ever been in Formula 1, I think showed me enough – and showed everyone here at McLaren enough – that we have what it takes to challenge them.

“Therefore I want to create my own chapter and my own story of being with McLaren and turning the team around and being part of that journey.

“So of course there’s always interest and in the back of my mind it’s always like, ‘What would happen if I went here and what could I achieve,’ and so forth.

“But I’m happy with where I am, I’m comfortable and I think in order to achieve a World Championship you need to be happy and comfortable with where you’re at.

“I don’t think you are able to achieve that by suddenly switching to another team and finding that within a year. So that’s why I think it’s best.”

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