Why does Max Verstappen’s driving style cause so many crashes?

Verstappen’s defence at the 2024 Austrian GP reopened conversations about his ability to win fairly against rivals

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Max Verstappen might be one of the fastest Formula 1 drivers ever, but until he learns how to go wheel-to-wheel fairly, he will never be one of the greatest. Verstappen‘s age-old driving style problem of crashes under pressure resurfaced at the 2024 Austrian Grand Prix.

The latest flare up of his over-the-limit style came after he finally crashed into Lando Norris after moving under braking twice prior, leaving himself with a puncture. Third time [un]lucky for the 26-year-old as he extended his championship lead by finishing fifth, whilst the Norris went on to retire at the Red Bull Ring.

Verstappen attracted a lot of criticism post-race, being slammed by McLaren’s team principal, Andrea Stella; their CEO, Zak Brown; and Norris himself who all questioned the Red Bull driver’s tendency to crash when challenged.

“No, I don’t think I need to change anything I’m doing,” Norris told members of the media, including Total-Motorsport.com, on his approach to racing Verstappen. “I was on the edge of the track. I don’t know what else I’m going to do.

“He’s always been a bit like that. I respect Max a lot and what he can do, and what he goes out and does but there’s times when I think he goes going a little bit too far and I feel like today’s a little bit of that. It’s one incident and at the same time, I know these things happen.”

The three-time world champion has a reputation for being one of the most unforgiving combatants on the grid and it has earned him comparisons to Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna’s policy when it came to fighting their title rivals on track, but Verstappen seems unable remain on the limit like the legendary Ferrari and McLaren drivers were.

One only has to go back to the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship when he was locked in a bitter title fight with Lewis Hamilton and could not defend his places without running the Mercedes driver off the circuit, something that happened in Imola, Spain, Monza, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, which is what Stella referenced.

“The entire population in the world would know who is responsible except for a group of people,” Stella said, scalding Verstappen’s driving. “But the problem behind it is that if you don’t address these things, they will come back.

“They came back today because they were not addressed properly in the past when there was some fights with Lewis that needed to be punished in a harsh way. Like this, you learn how to race in a certain way, which we can consider fair and square. Many episodes.”

Everyone will remember the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP when Verstappen‘s driving almost caused him and Hamilton to DNF on three occasions as he found himself very, very fortunate to avoid being black-flagged and disqualified in Jeddah, as even Helmut Marko apologised for denying a brake test.

Then a week later, in the United Arab Emirates at the Yas Marina Circuit, Verstappen’s Lap 1 attempt to regain the place he lost off the line completely missed the apex, as Hamilton had to go off-track to remain in the race. It’s worth noting that he could have won the title in both of those races.

Lewis Hamilton leads Max Verstappen at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP | Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton leads Max Verstappen at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP | Mercedes

Verstappen’s driving style crashes a consequence of FIA inaction

But why is he this way? Bluntly, it’s the fault of the FIA who have spend years enabling this approach to F1 racing from the Dutchman and have even gone out of their way to make it perfectly acceptable in the modern era.

Instead of clamping down on drivers who are clearly carrying too much speed to actually hit the apex as they go sailing by to run their rival off the road, the governing body of the sport decided to adapt the rules so that this is okay instead.

If a driver has the outrageous audacity to be on the outside of a corner, the car on the inside is free to run them off the road to their heart’s content and the responsibility lands firmly on the shoulders of the car on the outside.

As a result, modern drivers have learned this is the quickest and easiest way to take a place from another car and F1 has lost the multi-corner battles it used to know, such as Fernando Alonso vs Hamilton at the 2013 German GP.

Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin and Sir Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes | Aston Martin F1 Team
Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes at the 2024 Bahrain GP | Aston Martin F1 Team

What is the solution?

Perhaps the driving style approaches Verstappen took in 2021, 2022 and now at the 2024 Austrian GP are flashier and better for YouTube highlight compilations or quick engagements on social media, but crashing is not racing.

So how do we solve this problem? It’s actually very simple. The only rule to go racing has to be that you need to leave a car space through the entire corner. That rule should apply to both the attacker and the defender.

If an attacking car has its front wheel alongside your rear wheel then don’t turn into the apex as though it can teleport out of the way like Carlos Sainz did to George Russell at the start of the 2022 United States GP.

And a defending car should never be pushed off the track because the attacker either misjudged their braking or deviously didn’t plan to stop, which should be really easy to tell either via data or by applying common sense.

By doing this, F1 will see it’s multi-corner fights return with an emphasis on clever positioning and genuine race-craft, over cheap divebombs that ask little of skill at all.

Brandon Sutton
Brandon Sutton
Brandon is an alumni of an NCTJ and BJTC Liverpool John Moores University course, and has been with Total-Motorsport.com for over a year now. He enjoys covering all forms of motorsport but particularly focuses on Formula 1, and Brandon loves to debate various topics of the sport and other interests, especially if that topic doesn't have an open/shut answer such as the GOAT debate.
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