Norris feels more at the top of the McLaren team than ever before – and it shows

Norris feels more at the top of the McLaren team than ever before – and it shows

Lando Norris feels “the most I’ve ever been on top of a car” and, after being hidden at times in recent Formula 1 races, is fully visible at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Norris was bitterly disappointed to miss out on pole position at Interlagos in qualifying on Friday when McLaren’s timing at the start of Q3 left Norris at a disadvantage as the weather turned and his position on the track proved to be a deciding factor. This came after Norris set the fastest time of anyone in Q2, just over a tenth of Max Verstappen’s time.

He and McLaren felt that was made up for by an excellent Saturday, with Norris taking pole position in the sprint race and then finishing second behind winner Verstappen in the usually dominant Red Bull.

Despite Norris losing the lead to Verstappen at the start and admitting he was “caught a bit asleep” by George Russell during a “tough opening lap”, his driving after that was perfect. He passed Russell and pulled away from Sergio Pérez with ease even after the chasing Red Bull also passed Russell into third.

Over the course of a single lap and over a significant period, which is really just a sprint, Norris was in fantastic form this weekend – with a significant advantage over his team-mate Oscar Piastri. This version of the MCL60 is clearly a very competitive beast, but the gap between the drivers in Brazil shows the difference Norris can make at his best.

While Piastri has regularly shown the full range of his exciting potential, for example through his qualifying performances in Japan and his Sprint win in Qatar, his form is naturally more volatile as a rookie. Whereas since McLaren’s mid-season upgrade, Norris has tended to be at the upper limit of what the car is capable of doing – for example, a big second package in Singapore resulted in four successive podium finishes.

“The last few weekends have been very strong,” he said after the Brazilian Sprint.

“I would say the last four or five weekends have been the strongest for me in terms of absolute speed and getting the maximum out of the car.

“I made those silly little mistakes here and there in qualifying. But a lot of those times the pace would probably have been my strong suit, my best driving, if it weren’t for those little things.”

There is something contradictory about Norris claiming he was getting the most out of the car while making mistakes but that may be explained by him talking about different things. There is a clear difference in the balance of power between Norris and Piastri in qualifying and the race.

Since the summer break, Norris has not been consistent in qualifying – in fact 4-4 between them now in Grand Prix qualifying in the last eight races, and that run includes Norris getting a pole position in the last major promotion.

But in terms of Grand Prix results over the same period, Norris leads 6-1 (the only time Piastri has been McLaren’s home is Qatar). This difference can be explained by a few things – Piastri’s ability to overcome his inexperience more in the playoffs, Norris’ need for structure on Saturdays (or Fridays on weekends), and Norris’ superiority more on Sundays.

“The last two or three weekends, I’ve felt like I’ve been in control of things a lot more,” Norris said.

“And I felt very comfortable.

“There are still a lot of things I’m not comfortable with, but I definitely feel like I’m on top of the car more than ever.

“Some of it is finding out what my weaknesses are in the car and things I struggle with. Some of it is just confidence and putting things together and getting laps done and doing good races and things like that.

“I don’t think it’s just this weekend or that anything suddenly changes. Here, Mexico, Austin, Qatar, Suzuka – all these races were very good, very good performances, very good pace, probably in every single race.

“But only a very few of these are small mistakes.”

These errors are now well established. Norris maintained his podium finish despite a poor qualifying in Qatar, but it ended in Mexico after a silly mistake led to his elimination from Q1.

At least he responded again by moving up to fifth on Sunday and that was very good. And now we come to Brazil, where what happened on Friday left Norris sixth on the grid for the Grand Prix, which – while not a disaster – may still make some of Norris’ best races more complicated than they need to be. .

“Of course, I’m disappointed sometimes, and I always say I should have been first or I should have been second,” he said.

“There were a lot of things that should have been, would have been, could have been. But that’s because it’s the truth. We proved that today (Saturday), but yesterday we were supposed to be in front if we did as well as we did today. And the thing is The same applies to us in Qatar.”

There, Norris’ pain was compounded by the fact that Piastri had done a better job. She achieved even greater results, including winning the sprint race. But while Piastri has made Norris sweat more than once this season, this weekend is no such occasion.

There was a gap of a few tenths to half a second between more than one lap, thanks largely to the vastly different conditions of their sprints, and Norris was half a minute ahead of Piastri at the flag.

Enemy coordination did Piastri no favors. That cut his running training to a third of what it normally was, and meant Saturday’s race was his first long race. This, combined with the difference in experience, hurt him compared to Norris.

“It seems that, along with the Singapore upgrade, we’ve also been able to benefit from some improved tire degradation capabilities,” McLaren team principal Andrea Stella said when asked why Norris has felt more comfortable in the car recently. .

“We’ve observed this behavior for enough races to say it’s a consistent pattern. So I think this (Norris’ level of racing) partly comes from the car.

“At the same time, Lando has a car that allows him to do more of what he wants, and he is taking advantage of the opportunity to put less pressure on the tyres.

“The main enabler was the development of the car. Then, once the car allows you to do something, drivers understand how to get more out of that.

McLaren feels that Piastri has not maximized this in the way Norris has, for the reasons mentioned above. She now expects a clear move from Piastri in Sunday’s Grand Prix based on what he learned from the race.

But it would be surprising if it would be enough to take Piastri to where Norris works this weekend. Because when Norris gets in tune with this car, his performance level is extremely high.

That’s why, even though it’s another event that has somehow been compromised, another podium finish cannot be ruled out.

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