Norris heroics can’t stop Red Bull matching McLaren’s historic win streak

2023 British Grand Prix review

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With every race victory that saw Red Bull creep ever closer to McLaren’s all-time record of 11 consecutive grand prix wins, the more remarkable that legendary run from 1988 had seemed.

The MP4-4 was arguably the most dominant Formula 1 car ever constructed. It regularly took pole by multiple seconds, never mind tenths. Races were won by margins of a minute or more.

Not Ferrari at the peak of Michael Schumacher’s, nor Red Bull during Sebastian Vettel’s dominance, nor Mercedes throughout their stranglehold over the sport in the early V6 hybrid turbo years could manage such an lengthy streak of victories.

While Red Bull’s RB19 has been nowhere near as crushingly superior over its competition as McLaren’s most successful ever car, it hasn’t needed to be. Thanks mainly to the unmatched abilities of Max Verstappen, Red Bull arrived at Silverstone with an opportunity to equal McLaren’s all-time record of 11 consecutive victories stretching back to last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – as well as continue their perfect streak of wins through the 2023 season.

But in order to achieve something only one team has ever done before, Red Bull would have to deal with an unexpected threat: McLaren themselves. Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri had stunned the paddock and the 140,000 fans in attendance on Saturday by storming to second and third on the grid in their upgraded MCL60s.

Race start, Silverstone, 2023
Norris charged past Verstappen at the start
They were the closest contenders to Verstappen on pole after yet another botched qualifying session had taken Sergio Perez out of the picture. With Verstappen, the two McLarens, two Ferraris and two Mercedes all lined up on the grid, the opening phase of the race would reveal just how genuine McLaren’s pace was relative to their rivals.

It did not take long for McLaren to show the threat they posed was very real. As the lights went out, Norris leapt from his grid slot on the dirty side of the Hamilton straight and was already alongside the Red Bull before Verstappen even realised he needed to defend. By the time the pair were 150 metres away from Abbey, Norris was in the lead. Behind, Piastri’s start had been even better, but he had to pull right, all his momentum leaving him nowhere to go.

Norris led into Abbey as what could only be described as a thunderous roar of approval erupted from the grandstands. Verstappen held second ahead of Piastri with Charles Leclerc fourth, George Russell moving ahead of Carlos Sainz Jnr into fifth and Lewis Hamilton remaining in sixth. At Village, Hamilton ran off while looking to the outside of Sainz, dropping behind Fernando Alonso and Pierre Gasly into ninth place.

Piastri stalked Verstappen all the way down the Wellington Straight, the McLaren driver enjoying more traction than the Red Bull through the opening corners. He continued to pile on the pressure, pulling alongside the Red Bull into Copse before wisely bailing out as they entered the 300kph right-hander. At the end of the first lap, Norris led by six tenths of a second with Piastri just as far behind. Leclerc was fourth ahead of soft-shod Russell in fifth, while his Mercedes team mate Hamilton had regained a position from Gasly to move up to eighth.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Silverstone, 2023
McLaren led at home for four laps
Verstappen did not allow Norris to escape him over the early laps. He kept within the one second needed to earn DRS against the leader when the system was activated at the start of the third lap. By lap five, Verstappen was within half a second as the pair entered the Wellington Straight. But with a peak speed advantage of over 20kph approaching the braking zone for Brooklands, Verstappen sailed through into the lead with Norris offering little resistance.

But despite now being freed into clear air, Verstappen did not disappear from the McLarens behind. Instead, Norris remained within a second of the Red Bull for the five laps following him losing the lead, while Piastri was also close behind his team mate, pulling away from Leclerc behind. McLaren saw the benefit of Verstappen towing both their drivers away from the pack behind and were eager for it to continue.

“Okay, Oscar,” race engineer Tom Stallard told his driver. “At the moment, hold position. Keep opening the gap to Leclerc.”

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Norris eventually fell out of DRS range on lap ten, but even once the one-second barrier was broken, Verstappen was unable to drop the McLaren in his mirrors. The new construction medium tyres for the weekend seemed to be providing consistent performance and the entire field remained evenly spread with not a single driver in the top 17 positions enjoying an advantage of more than five seconds over a rival behind.

Leclerc had dropped to just under four seconds behind Piastri but was maintaining a similar pace to the McLarens ahead. He was facing the most pressure from Russell and his soft tyres, having repelled the Mercedes’ earlier attacks with some questionable defensive moves that earned the ire of his rival but not the attention of race control.

Fearing an ‘undercut’ attempt from the Mercedes, Ferrari told Leclerc to pit as he headed down the Hangar Straight towards Stowe corner for the 19th time. Ferrari fitted him with a fresh set of hard tyres, with Leclerc emerging in 12th place, between Lance Stroll and Logan Sargeant.

Red Bull had no intentions of pitting soon. As the leader rounded Brooklands, he saw Leclerc leaving the pit lane on the large diamond screen set up for spectators on the outside of Luffield.

“I saw a Ferrari pit,” Verstappen told engineer Gianpiero Lambiase. “I guess we just stick to our strategy?”

“Yes, no concern for the moment, Max,” Lambiase replied. “That was Leclerc onto a hard tyre.”

Verstappen was more than happy with his mediums as they were. That was also true for the vast majority of the field as the new tyres appeared to be holding up well despite the high speed corners around the Silverstone circuit. Leclerc’s lap times on the new hards were hardly quicker than Russell’s on his old softs and the gap between them remained static.

“I think we stopped a bit early, guys,” said Leclerc on his radio.

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It wasn’t until well over half-distance, the end of lap 28, when Russell became the first of the top nine runners to make their first stop, switching his softs for mediums. Frustratingly for him and Mercedes, Leclerc was two seconds ahead by the time Russell left the pits, Leclerc having managed to retain position despite his early visit to the pits.

Piastri was next in the following time by. Verstappen’s lead had grown to eight seconds over Norris, while Piastri held an advantage of nine seconds over Hamilton in fourth. Piastri emerged from the pitlane in sixth, with Albon as a buffer between him and Leclerc. That is, until Russell finally got ahead of the Ferrari on lap 31 by pulling off a thrilling pass around the outside of Luffield to take what was then eighth place.

“Nice job, Buffalo girls…” Russell’s engineer Marcus Dudley remarked.

Further back in the pack, Kevin Magnussen had just gained 13th place from Stroll who had pitted ahead of him. But as the Haas driver ran over the kerb to move onto the Wellington Straight, his car suddenly switched off for a second consecutive day, smoke and flames rising from the rear of the car as he pulled off to the side of the track. The Virtual Safety Car was deployed, with the leading three all about to pass the stricken VF-23.

Leclerc was able to dive into the pits, Ferrari choosing to switch onto the mediums. Red Bull and McLaren were both planning to pit at the end of the lap, but while Verstappen was set to be fitted soft tyres to take him to the end, McLaren were planning to switch Norris onto hard tyres – even if their driver was unsure.

“Tyre-wise, still confident in your decision?” Norris asked over team radio. “We’re still confident in the hards,” came the reply. “Still happy with the hards.”

Norris wasn’t sure. “I think a soft tyre,” he insisted. “Please, just think about it.” But when he arrived in his pit box, McLaren had committed to the hard compound.

Verstappen emerged from the pits still in the lead, with Norris comfortably second. By the time they had entered the pit lane, the Virtual Safety Car had been upgraded to a full Safety Car. This worked out brilliantly for Mercedes, as third-placed Hamilton was able to take advantage of Piastri rounding the final sector at a vastly reduced speed to retain third position by the time he left the pit lane.

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Under the Safety Car, Norris was sat on hard tyres between Verstappen and Hamilton who were both on the soft compound that he had lobbied his team to fit.

Two of the home favourite scrapped over second place
“What tyres does the Mercedes have on?,” he asked, anxiously. “Hamilton behind you has used softs,” came his answer.

“Lovely,” Norris replied sarcastically, realising how difficult the upcoming restart was likely to be for him. “Yeah, wonderful…”

It took until lap 38 for race control to confirm the Safety Car was coming in. Verstappen backed the field up down the length of the Hangar Straight before bolting at the 150 metre board on the approach to Stowe, taking the green flag over a second ahead of the McLaren. Norris was facing immediate pressure from Hamilton, just two tenths behind as they entered Abbey, and went defensive as soon as he entered the Wellington Straight. Hamilton looked to the outside of Brooklands, then Luffield, then Copse, but Norris successfully fended off all three attacks.

The next lap, Hamilton was not quite as close. But when Norris ran wide at Luffield, Hamilton tried to catch the McLaren out by throwing his car up the inside. The pair ran side-by-side through Woodcote, but the McLaren gradually edged ahead on the run to Copse and Hamilton was ultimately thwarted again. Even when DRS was activated at the end of the lap, Hamilton was only about to take two tenths out of the McLaren down the Wellington Straight, his soft tyres not appearing to be able to give him enough to make up the rest of the difference.

Verstappen pulled out a three-second lead, but he too appeared to reach a ceiling of performance, with his lap times falling from the 1’30s to the 1’31s. The gap stabilised at around three-and-a-half seconds, but while Verstappen could not pull further away from the McLaren behind, Norris was also not getting any closer to the leader.

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Even Russell in fifth was unable to take advantage of his softer medium tyres to challenge Piastri ahead on the hards. Norris seemed secure in his second place, but a series of track limits violations suddenly appeared on the timing screen at once, with Norris shown the black-and-white flag for reaching three strikes. Any further and he would receive a penalty.

Alex Albon, Williams, Silverstone, 2023
The Ferrari drivers were thwarted by Albon
The closest battle on-track was the scrap over seventh place between Alonso, Alexander Albon and Leclerc, who were all separated by just over a second heading into the penultimate lap. Alonso pulled slightly ahead of the Williams, meaning Albon would face the most pressure from Leclerc over the final 5.8 kilometres. Heading onto the Wellington Straight for the final time, both had DRS activated but Leclerc had a much stronger slipstream. Albon went defensive as Leclerc took the outside line for Brooklands, but Albon held off the Ferrari, the superior straight line speed of the Williams making Leclerc’s chances of getting by before the end of the lap looking unlikely.

But out front, Verstappen had managed to repel a challenge for a race win from a fifth different team over the opening ten rounds of the season: his Red Bull team mate, Aston Martin, Mercedes, Ferrari and now McLaren. He crossed the line to claim his eighth win of the season, his sixth consecutive victory and his second win at Silverstone – albeit the first time he would be awarded the RAC Trophy for winning the British Grand Prix.

“It wasn’t particularly straightforward,” the winner said. “I had a bad start, a lot of wheel spin, so I had to work my way up again to Lando. Everything was working quite well but it was still quite surprising to see that the McLaren was actually that quick, or Lando was that quick, over the whole stint.”

Norris equalled his best-ever finish in second, but had secured his first home podium of his career after leading a grand prix for only the third time. Despite his hard tyres eventually coming up to speed and allowing him to hold off Hamilton, he still wasn’t sure that McLaren had made the right choice at the pit stop.

“Would I have preferred the soft? Would the soft have made me be under less stress for the first three laps after the Safety Car? I think absolutely,” he admitted. “I feel like we put ourselves under a lot more pressure to try and get a hard tyre to work with a Safety Car restart with only 10 laps to go pretty much. Not really what I wanted, but it’s still worked out.”

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But after holding off Hamilton for the final laps, Norris gave himself some credit. “I chose a slightly lower downforce level yesterday, which was a bit of a risk but I thought there might be a racing situation where one or two kph might have helped me out and today I did exactly that,” he explained. “So I’m thanking my own decision to choose lower downforce.”

Hamilton had been fortunate to gain third from Piastri to take an unprecedented 14th British Grand Prix podium and an 11th consecutive appearance – and he knew it.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Silverstone, 2023
Red Bull equalled another F1 record
“I really didn’t expect to be on the podium today,” the Mercedes driver admitted. “I basically put on the medium tyre in the hope and plan to just stay out on them until the very end, until the Safety Car potentially would come, and fortunately it did.”

That good fortune ultimately denied Piastri a stunning first podium in his rookie season. But despite missing out, the McLaren driver said he was happy to be disappointed with fourth. “I think we did everything we could,” he said. “Mercedes, with Hamilton, were in a position where they could gamble to wait for a Safety Car and it paid off for them. But I think from an execution point of view, we did everything that we could today.”

Russell was the third British driver in the top five in fifth, with Perez climbing up to sixth after yet another start down the field left him falling even further behind his team mate in the championship. Alonso took seventh for Aston Martin, while Albon brought even more cheer for Williams by leading the two Ferraris of Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr over the line in eighth, moving Williams up to seventh in the constructors’ championship in their home grand prix.

Despite McLaren’s best efforts, Red Bull had succeeded in matching their record of 11 consecutive grand prix victories. With Verstappen appearing unstoppable on his march to a third world title in a row and Red Bull equally dominant in the constructors’ standings, team principal Christian Horner was eager for a moment of reflection on what his team had achieved by matching one of the most celebrated statistics in Formula 1.

“It’s an incredible record,” Horner said. “[It was] 1988 when the McLaren-Honda achieved those 11 victories with Senna and Prost. To think that we’ve matched that, that’s testament to the hard work of the team, of the commitment of the drivers, reliability, strategy.

“To have achieved this result here, is something the whole team can be immensely proud of.”

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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2 comments on “Norris heroics can’t stop Red Bull matching McLaren’s historic win streak”

  1. Touching a car in Parc Ferme, 50.000 again

  2. Prashanth Ramadas
    13th July 2023, 0:40

    There is a big difference between on screen and off screen. The biggest thing which stands out is the region factor.

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