Japanese GP: Max Verstappen escapes penalty after Lando Norris qualifying incident
Max Verstappen held on to pole for the Japanese GP after escaping with a reprimand from the stewards following a qualifying incident with Lando Norris; watch Sunday's race live on Sky Sports F1 at 6am
Last Updated: 08/10/22 1:34pm
Max Verstappen held on to pole position for the Japanese GP after Lando Norris withdrew his accusation that the Dutchman had intentionally forced him off track in qualifying.
Verstappen, who can claim the world championship by winning Sunday's race and taking the fastest lap, was fastest in qualifying on Saturday but faced an agonising wait as the stewards investigated a Q3 incident with Norris.
As the drivers were on their out-laps ahead of their first flying efforts, with Verstappen going slowly, Norris attempted to overtake the Red Bull on the approach to 130R.
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Verstappen then suddenly accelerated, and appeared to lose control of the rear of his car as he swerved across the track towards the line the McLaren was on, leaving Norris no option but to go off track to avoid a collision.
Norris initially accused Verstappen of intentionally pushing him off the track, but later told stewards it had simply been an "unfortunate incident", likely helping the Dutchman escape with just a reprimand that allowed him to hold on to pole.
Before the resolution had been reached, the drivers' post-race media obligations had resulted in a back and forth as both put forward their views of the incident.
Norris makes accusation
Both Verstappen and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner argued that Norris was breaking a "gentleman's agreement" between drivers not to overtake on out-laps, but the Briton was initially adamant the stewards should take action.
Asked if he thought Verstappen tried to block his overtake, Norris told Sky Sports F1: "I mean it was quite clear he tried to do that.
"There's no rule on what you can do, but doing what he did is something that you cannot do.
"People always overtake before the last corner, as much as everyone agrees to it [gentleman's agreement], everyone always does it, so it doesn't matter, he probably would have done the same if he was in my situation, but I wouldn't have swerved at him if I was in his situation."
Asked if he would expect a penalty if he had done what Verstappen did, Norris replied: "Oh yeah, for sure."
Verstappen: Norris could be more respectful
Verstappen, who appeared to offer an apology on the drivers' in-laps as he pulled alongside Norris and waved, said he had not intentionally blocked the McLaren.
"I was just driving quite slow, and I wanted to accelerate but my tyres were quite cold, so then I had a big moment," Verstappen said in his on-track interview immediately after qualifying.
"Then of course Lando was trying to pass me at the same time so he had to avoid me a little bit, but luckily nothing happened."
However, speaking shortly after in the top-three press conference, Verstappen offered a stronger riposte to Norris' comments.
"We were on our out-lap and we were all lining up to try to create a gap to everyone, and somehow he still wanted to get me into the chicane, but I was at the point of acceleration, but I was on very cold tyres so I had a little moment and that's why he had to drive around me," he said.
"But if you're just a bit more respectful, then everyone is anyway already lining up. I don't think anyone is trying to pass into that last chicane, so basically by trying to pass me you create that kind of problem."
Then in a third interview in the media pen, Verstappen appeared to soften his stance once more.
"Lando is a very good friend of mine so I would never deliberately push him off the track... maybe he thinks I did," Verstappen said.
"The problem is that I was creating a gap to the cars ahead which everyone, of course, does because you don't want to be too close around here. But, of course, your tyres are so cold because you're driving so slow. I was just trying to warm my tyres a bit and then in my mirrors I saw he was coming quite quick and I wanted to stay ahead of him, and as soon as I accelerated I lost the rear by having cold tyres.
"I had a big moment and tried to correct the car, and that's why he had to go through the grass. Maybe he saw it as I was trying to turn in on him but I lost the car and I couldn't have done anything else."
With Verstappen and Norris waiting to visit the stewards, Red Bull boss Horner added that he was adamant the incident had been caused accidentally.
"I don't think he's trying to block Lando, I just don't think he was expecting someone on an out-lap at that point near the chicane," Horner said.
"They're both on out-laps and there's a gentleman's agreement between the drivers that when you get to that part of the circuit you hold position and they file through the last chicane one-by-one.
"So, Lando has decided that he wants to jump the queue as they head up to that final chicane. They've been following each other all the way around the circuit until that point."
Almost an hour after qualifying had finished, Verstappen and Norris made their way to see the stewards, with the pair, who are known to be good friends, emerging from the meeting together.
Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz, who was in the middle of his live Qualifying Notebook show, approached the pair, first asking if they were still friends.
Verstappen replied that they will "always" be friends, before appearing to suggest the situation had been resolved.
"It's just when you are in the car, once you see every on-board, it makes a lot more sense," he said. "They [the stewards] have everything."
Almost 30 minutes later, the FIA would release its ruling, confirming Verstappen had received just a reprimand and would not face a grid penalty.
That was despite finding him guilty of breaching article 33.4 of F1's sporting regulations, which state that: "At no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person."
It also said in the report that Norris had "stated that this was simply an unfortunate incident".
Button: it could have been a massive incident | Herbert surprised by decision
Before the ruling had been made, Sky Sports F1's Jenson Button said he thought there was a "good possibility" Verstappen would receive a penalty due to the dangerous nature of the incident.
Button said: "[He breached] all three [sporting regulations] I'd have to say. I don't think any of it was intentional, when Lando says he turned left into me, I don't think he did.
"He [Max] is not looking in his mirrors, he looks like he's got on the throttle to try and warm the tyres up and that's put him in a position that looks like he's moving over on Lando. Should he have done that? No.
"He's going too slow on the exit of a 200mph corner, so that's the issue that he has.
"None of it was intentional but the problem is that it could have been a massive incident and was very close to being a massive incident between the two cars."
Speaking after the ruling, Sky Sports F1's Johnny Herbert said he was "surprised" by the leniency of the stewards' decision.
"That [the lack of intention] seems to be the main way that they've come to this decision. Lando even said it was an unfortunate incident, but Max did lose control of the car," Herbert said.
"I'm surprised there wasn't a little bit more [punishment], just because of the danger element that could have come into play, and it was very close anyway."
Japanese GP starting grid
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
5) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
6) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
7) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
8) George Russell, Mercedes
9) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
10) Lando Norris, McLaren