How Norris and McLaren used Spa rain and a ‘super-undercut’ to salvage points

2023 Belgian Grand Prix

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Lando Norris’ Belgian Grand Prix appeared to be over by lap 17.

The McLaren driver lost four places in his opening stint on softs. That led the team to rush him into the pits as early as lap five and gambling on a compound no one had any experience of that weekend – the hard tyre. It backfired horribly, and the two Alfa Romeo drivers relegated him to 16th place.

“The goal was to get Lando out of the cars around him, give him some free air and try to go long to then finish on a soft tyre,” explained McLaren team principal Andrea Stella. “But I have to admit that our judgement on the grip of the hard tyres was incorrect. The tyres didn’t have much grip at all and Lando found himself again in the mix of the other cars.”

Norris’ salvation came from the heavens. Rain began to fall shortly before half distance in the 44-lap race. It never got strong enough for anyone to switch to full wet or even intermediate tyres, but it did force drivers to back off. Race leader Max Verstappen, who had a big scare going through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, backed over by five seconds per lap.

Norris had to take his soft tyres a long way to the finish
McLaren saw an opportunity. They needed to get Norris off his hard tyres and, so summoned him in on lap 17 for a set of softs. This was extremely early for a second pit stop – George Russell hadn’t even made his first by this point.

But a fresh, warm set of soft tyres proved just the thing at this point. Norris came out of the pits in last place but began lapping whole seconds faster than the entire field. Between laps 19 and 22 no one was quicker – the second-fastest drivers on those laps (Verstappen on laps 19 and 22, and Nico Hulkenberg in between) lost a total of 5.3 seconds to the McLaren.

Following their strategic miscue early on, “luckily the race gave us the opportunity to rectify the situation by going on soft very early,” said Stella. “We timed going on soft with the rain.

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“I would like to praise the work done by our people that from the factory and from the track supporting the operations by observing the rain development because they gave us information that allowed us to think that we can go through the rain on dry tyres.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Spa-Francorchamps, 2023
Gallery: 2023 Belgian Grand Prix in pictures
“Timing this on to the soft tyres allowed Lando to recover a massive amount of time on anybody else that was out there on the used tyres and they needed to be much more careful than Lando while driving under the rain.”

Others spent lap after lap losing seconds to Norris. The upshot was he gained a remarkable 12 places when they pitted – a super-undercut which propelled him to seventh place. Even Norris admitted he wasn’t quite sure how he got there.

Part of the reason Norris was able to perform this feat was that McLaren had ‘over-winged’ his car – i.e., he had too much downforce for dry conditions. Before the race he predicted McLaren’s rivals would have up to a 25kph advantage on him in the DRS zones, and so it proved.

But that extra downforce helped him when the rain fell and made it easier for him to keep his soft tyres alive for the mammoth, 27-lap stint which followed.

“Because we had enough downforce in the middle sector, that’s the reason why we could extend the run on the soft so long and actually retain competitiveness even when the rubber was almost finished on the soft tyres,” said Stella.

2023 Belgian Grand Prix lap chart

The positions of each driver on every lap. Click name to highlight, right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

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2023 Belgian Grand Prix race chart

The gaps between each driver on every lap compared to the leader’s average lap time. Very large gaps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

2023 Belgian Grand Prix lap times

All the lap times by the drivers (in seconds, very slow laps excluded). Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and toggle drivers using the control below:

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2023 Belgian Grand Prix fastest laps

Each driver’s fastest lap:

RankNo.DriverCarLap timeGapAverage speed (kph)Lap no.
144Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’47.305234.9844
21Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’48.9221.617231.4932
323Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’49.8412.536229.5535
427Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’49.9072.602229.4226
524Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’50.1882.883228.8327
62Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’50.2362.931228.7336
711Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’50.3083.003228.5831
816Charles LeclercFerrari1’50.4363.131228.3230
931Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’50.4393.134228.3127
1077Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’50.5153.210228.1526
1163George RussellMercedes1’50.6033.298227.9725
1210Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’50.9113.606227.3425
1314Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’50.9383.633227.2842
1420Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’50.9933.688227.1727
153Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’50.9943.689227.1725
1618Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’51.2973.992226.5526
1722Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’51.3944.089226.3526
184Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’51.6824.377225.7726
1955Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’53.1385.833222.869

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2023 Belgian Grand Prix tyre strategies

The tyre strategies for each driver:

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2023 Belgian Grand Prix pit stop times

How long each driver’s pit stops took:

RankNo.DriverTeamComplete stop time (s)Gap to best (s)Stop no.Lap no.
122Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri22.6119
211Sergio PerezRed Bull22.710.1229
322Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri22.7370.127224
43Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri22.8430.23315
51Max VerstappenRed Bull22.8870.277114
61Max VerstappenRed Bull23.0120.402230
744Lewis HamiltonMercedes23.0230.413227
831Esteban OconAlpine23.0850.47516
914Fernando AlonsoAston Martin23.0850.475110
1044Lewis HamiltonMercedes23.090.48112
112Logan SargeantWilliams23.1090.499334
1216Charles LeclercFerrari23.1480.538228
1344Lewis HamiltonMercedes23.1560.546342
1416Charles LeclercFerrari23.2240.614113
153Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri23.290.68222
1655Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari23.3030.69317
1731Esteban OconAlpine23.3390.729225
1877Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo23.3620.75216
1923Alexander AlbonWilliams23.5290.919333
202Logan SargeantWilliams23.570.9618
2120Kevin MagnussenHaas23.5720.962225
2223Alexander AlbonWilliams23.5960.986223
2320Kevin MagnussenHaas23.6381.02815
2411Sergio PerezRed Bull23.6841.074113
254Lando NorrisMcLaren23.7441.134217
2677Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo23.7861.176224
2714Fernando AlonsoAston Martin23.7981.188229
2863George RussellMercedes23.8371.227122
292Logan SargeantWilliams23.9381.328224
3024Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo24.0451.435225
3124Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo24.4491.83917
3227Nico HulkenbergHaas24.5711.961112
334Lando NorrisMcLaren25.0122.40215
3423Alexander AlbonWilliams25.0152.40517
3527Nico HulkenbergHaas25.2382.628224
3618Lance StrollAston Martin25.3972.787120
3710Pierre GaslyAlpine25.6643.054123

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2023 Belgian Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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7 comments on “How Norris and McLaren used Spa rain and a ‘super-undercut’ to salvage points”

  1. That really was a killer strategy by Mclaren. That mild rain was the only opportunity they had to try something different. And they grabbed it with both hands. Great move to put on softs and get Lando in clear air which allowed him to unleash his middle sector pace.

    Lesson to Lando, trust your team on strategy more (remember Sochi, 2021?). They are just as good as you and your car development team.

    1. Well, the original call to go from mediums to hards was not a great one though, possibly if they had then put him on softs (as Haas did with Hulkenberg) might have meant he would not have dropped as far back. Then again, he also wouldn’t have gained as much and they probably wouldn’t have gone for a strategic choice like this later on.

    2. Again Sochi. No, no, no. So many people getting this backwards.
      Fact: McLaren NEVER asked him to pit in Sochi 21. They asked him what he wanted to do and his instinct told him to stay out. He never ignored a box call, and McLaren never told him the rain would intensify.
      Compare that to Mercedes/Hamilton: Mercedes DID tell Lewis to box, he ignored that as he too had the instinct to stay out, Mercedes then DID follow up with saying rain would intensify and he really needed to box, to which he complied.

      Lando had the exact same instinct as Lewis (to carry on), the difference is one of these drivers had a team that told him to box (twice) and gave a proper weather forecast to convince the driver to come in, while the other driver’s team failed doing that.

      1. Absolutely, and norris did an incredible job on slicks, he had good chances to stay ahead in intermediate conditions, however the rain intensified and as soon as he ended up with slicks on full wet conditions it wasn’t possible to continue any more, and there’s another element too: hamilton was fighting for the title, there was a massive gap, almost 1 min to the 3rd placed car, so absolutely no risk to end up behind 2nd place if he had lost out to norris strategically, so he decided to play it safe and pit for inters, while norris was trying a rare occasion for a first win, so I will always be convinced he HAD to try something, and pitting would’ve meant giving away any victory chance if hamilton stayed out and the conditions hadn’t worsened.

  2. So, luck and tactical nous in equal measure?!

  3. It did have me scratching my head, after watching Norris’s onboard view, presumably complete with DRS, of Sargeant’s Williams disappearing off up the Kemmel straight…then Lando was going round the outside of him. Softs are quicker than inters in the rain? Well done, Pirelli.

    1. To be honest though, that wasn’t real rain, it was too little, you need at least persistent light rain to have to use inters.

Comments are closed.