Monaco Grand Prix: Lando Norris and Max Verstappen friendship to be tested as title fight brews

Monaco Grand Prix: Lando Norris and Max Verstappen friendship to be tested as title fight brews

From title rivals to doubles partners: for a brief moment this week, Max Verstappen and Lando Norris found themselves on the same team.

Forming a padel doubles partnership on a clay court in the Monaco principality they both call home, the pair traded shots, smiles and frustrations.

Close pals, it is a friendship that has yet to be tested — but it looks increasingly destined to go that way for the remainder of 2024 and beyond.

Norris has only marginally been second-best to Verstappen over the last three races, winning in Miami — his first Formula One race victory — and finishing runner-up to the Dutchman in China and last Sunday at Imola.

In an era when Verstappen has been entirely dominant, it at least offered up the prospect of an actual title fight this season, even though Verstappen is 60 points clear of Norris with five wins from a possible seven in 2024.

When asked if Norris was now a genuine title threat, the three-time F1 world champion said: "Everyone should think like that. After their last few races, McLaren are really in the mix.

"Of course, they are quite a few points down at the moment but, if they suddenly start winning, that can turn around quite quickly."

Refreshingly for McLaren fans and neutrals alike, Verstappen argued that the street circuit might prove more of a challenge for Red Bull than most.

"Looking at the layout, it's probably not going to be our best track, just because our car normally struggles a bit over bumps and kerbs," he said.

"We did work on it a bit compared to last year. So far, our low-speed performance has improved a little bit, but I don't think this is going to be a very easy weekend."

Verstappen, who won the Monaco Grand Prix a year ago, has predicted a three-way race for both pole and the win in Monaco alongside Norris' McLaren and Ferrari.

Norris has long been talked about as a future champion, and his star has clearly risen in recent weeks.

As for being a title protagonist this season, he said: “I'm what, 60 points behind Max? It's a long way to go. I am definitely not thinking about it and it is not going to change anything. You concentrate on getting a good result and then things play out for themselves. We have definitely put ourselves in there.

"We have not thought about it [the championship] at all over the last four weeks. We lost of lot over the first couple of weekends, so that's hurt us, but we are about a third of the way through, so there are plenty of opportunities for us. We know we still have some things coming in the future and, if things turn around, then we can easily start to come back at some of the teams.

"We're probably the team, along with Ferrari, where we have two cars up there performing at every single session and every single race."

While Norris has been on the rise, for Lewis Hamilton his final season with Mercedes has been a struggle. The Briton is frustrated with the lack of pace and handling of the car, which essentially has led to his decision to move to Ferrari next season.

The seven-time world champion has not come close to a podium this season, enjoying a best finish of sixth to date. But he hinted that Monaco might see an improvement.

"I think we should be a little bit better here," he said. "I think the window is starting to open in terms of performance, so I'm really hoping we've got it in a bit of a sweet spot.

"We weren't that far off in qualifying last year actually with a much worse car, so I hope that says something for this weekend."