(L to R): Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Lando Norris, McLaren, Zandvoort, 2023

Norris: Red Bull’s dominance down to ‘small things which make a big difference’

Formula 1

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Lando Norris is encouraged by McLaren’s rate of development this year and expects to see more improvements from their new wind tunnel.

But he admits they still have a long way to go to get on terms with world champions Red Bull.

McLaren were Red Bull’s closest rival at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, with Norris and Oscar Piastri filling the podium behind Red Bull’s dominant winner Max Verstappen. Piastri put his McLaren on the front row but was out-run by his team mate.

Although McLaren sit fifth in the constructors’ standings, they have been the third highest-scoring team over the last eight rounds. Red Bull have taken almost twice as many points as McLaren points while Ferrari have out-scored them by just eight.

Norris believes the team can rise up the standings in the remaining races, but admits developing their car to beat Red Bull is a trickier matter.

“The thing is Red Bull have been so competitive for so many years, they’ve been able to focus on some other areas where the very, very small things make a big difference,” he explained. “Whether it’s to do with tyre temperature and tyre management and all of these things.

“Because the Red Bull is not just quick in qualifying. Where they’re very, very strong is the race, that’s where you get the points. So even if they do have a bad qualifying day and they start last, the chance of them winning is still very high, and that’s because their tyre degradation is extremely strong, their efficiency is very strong.”

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Norris took his fourth second place of the year at the last race but is doubtful he’ll be able to go one better and claim his first grand prix victory before the season is over.

“If you said ‘do you reckon we could have a pole position this year’, I’d be a lot more confident saying yes than ‘can we win a race?’. They’re two very different answers and different confidence levels in the answering.”

There are “quite a few other areas that we’re just not at the level that we need to be from a Red Bull perspective,” Norris admitted, but he believes the team is ready to begin working on them after turning around its poor start to 2023.

“I think the majority we know of. It’s just that so much focus has been put into putting us into the position we are now with fighting for some podiums and things like this. We needed that, and now the focus will shift into some of these other areas that we need to also focus on.”

The freedom to put the development focus onto smaller details like Red Bull can should be improved by the team making use of the upgraded wind tunnel at the McLaren Technology Centre, particularly for 2024, since the MCL60 was developed in Toyota’s wind tunnel in Germany.

Norris said the new wind tunnel will allow McLaren to work more efficiently. “There’s nothing wrong with what we have now,” he said. “It’s just the rate of development and being able to literally just go next door, understand something and figure it out and come back and adjust it and go straight back in.

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“We can probably do 10 more things in a day than we can if we’re using what we have now. So a bit of it is maybe some small things in performance, but it’s also just efficiency of work. And a lot of what Formula 1 is now is efficiency of work. Time, money put into things and then seeing the results straight away. And that’s what we’re getting from the new wind tunnel.”

Two races into the 2023 F1 season McLaren had no points and were last in the standings. Now Norris has his sights on beating Aston Martin to fourth in the championship.

This has given him encouragement for next year, when McLaren’s technical division will be boosted by the arrivals of major signings including Rob Marshal from Red Bull and David Sanchez from Ferrari.

“What we’ve done so far this year has been a very, very positive sign I think, and a confidence-boosting sign for myself in knowing what the team have been able to do this season,” said Norris. “And still the confidence of bringing in the new guys we have next year, still the development of the simulator, those things will add to it. So I’m not saying anything’s the key, I don’t think there is a key to it all. But the progress rate is pretty substantial this year.”

The success rate of McLaren’s upgrades has improved this year compared to previous ones, and after the Austrian Grand Prix package brought to the MCL60 that took the team closer to the front, Norris has been given “more hope that we can just put [an upgrade] on the car and it works”.

But he says the MCL60 still retains some handling characteristics he hopes will change in future McLarens. “In my opinion, it’s just a very upgraded version of what we have,” he explained. “The characteristic of how we drive it is still the same. The problems we have are still the same.

“So it’s not like we’ve stepped back and redone everything and it’s like ‘yeah, it handles completely differently’. We’re just going quicker, but with the same issues, and the same issues for a lot of it which don’t allow us at the minute to compete with the Red Bull and to compete for championships and compete for race wins.”

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2023 Japanese Grand Prix

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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20 comments on “Norris: Red Bull’s dominance down to ‘small things which make a big difference’”

  1. Mclaren has had only 3 champions in the last 30 years

    Dont count your chickens yet

    1. And you have zero.

      1. Bit harsh to refer to Max as a small thing.

    2. Before 2000 Ferrari had 19 years of nothing. Before 2014 Mercedes had nothing. Before 2010 Red Bull had nothing. What is your point?

  2. For all his antics, Norris seems a pretty clever guy. It’s interesting to see him note that the basic concept of the McLaren cars still leads to some curious handling characteristics; it’s something that was quite odd to see given the big changes from 2021 to 2022 (no doubt much to Ricciardo’s disappointment, too).

    While McLaren’s Austria upgrade – essentially a reworking of the car – has done well for them, I do wonder how much of this is down to Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin essentially giving up on their cars. Ferrari because this was still very much a Binotto car, Mercedes because they finally accepted that their initial take on the regulations wasn’t going to bring them the results they were hoping for, and Aston Martin because they learned all there was to learn from this and are still going through a long-term plan. Because as it is, McLaren is not much closer to actually challenging Red Bull – there are just fewer cars in between them.

    It’ll be interesting to see if they can build on this for the 2024 season, and how the order of that group of cars behind the Red Bull is reshuffled.

    1. I’ve never read such nonsense like this.
      Firstly, out of those three teams, the only one who has given up on their car is Mercedes. Ferrari won’t change the concept and Aston Martin litteraly said this week that they will bring upgrades until Abu Dhabi.
      Secondly, how can you say “«McLaren is not much closer to actually challenging Red Bull – there are just fewer cars in between them.»” when they’ve started the season qualifying 1.6s off Red Bull and now they are qualifying 0.2 – 0.5s off Max?

      1. They did cut their deficit to Red Bull in qualifying, although percentage wise they were no closer in Belgium than they were in Saudi Arabia, and Japan wasn’t much better than Spain. Track characteristics, and rain, also played a part.

        More importantly in the race, that group of teams trailing Red Bull shuffles around a bit, but with the exception of Singapore, are not challenging Red Bull. Even after their big upgrades, McLaren was once again on the back foot in Belgium, Netherlands and Italy, finishing behind the other trailing teams and still way behind Red Bull.

    2. It looks to me like Aston Martin introduced a bad update and have focused on understanding what went wrong and also moved onto next year knowing this year is done for them. For Aston Martin, they just need to have the right base to make their next step over the winter. Their fall back is probably not unexpected although I doubt they anticipated Mclaren leaping so far ahead of them. I’d be surprised if they didn’t move onto next years car before anyone.

      I think Ferrari have had some troublesome updates they’ve worked through but I personally feel they’ve unlocked some extra engine performance that was held in reserve at the start of the year. They’ve moved onto next year largely by now. I think they have actually been the second best package most of the year but cost themselves far more points than anyone else through errors.

      Mercedes obviously had a huge aero package earlier in the year and have brought numerous tweaks since. I think they missed out on a lot of good analysis (like everyone did) with the wet and sprint race weekends so they’re still understanding their car. I think they’ve moved development to next years car but will be using the end of the year to run as a mule car for some concepts for next year. Worth noting Mercedes made their major changes earlier than most due to them having made the decision early in testing that they got it wrong. I think Mercedes moved onto next years car earlier than many bar Red Bull. The stuff you’re seeing on their car now are just tweaks emptying this years pipeline and tests for next year imo.

      McLaren released a package that clearly made huge gains but was in effect actually just a late new car in effect given they messed up over last winter and created a base car and continued on the concept change they made early. I think Mclaren moved onto next years car in full more recently than others due to the fact they have in effect been out of step with all other teams this year.

      Testing next year will be pretty epic I think to see what steps the 4 behind Red Bull have taken. I think Mercedes and Ferrari in particular still have some huge gains they can make on their packages given their heavily compromised 2023 designs.

      1. Right, Mercedes and McLaren both switched to a Plan B even before the first race and have worked through completing that process into the season. It probably hasn’t delayed their plans for 2024 much, given how early they started.

        Aston Martin is tougher to interpret, as there was quite a bit of talk about a very frequent upgrade path for the season, but it doesn’t seem like that’s actually what’s happened. Perhaps a bit of Alonso’s wishful thinking.

        1. Aston Martin is tougher to interpret, as there was quite a bit of talk about a very frequent upgrade path for the season, but it doesn’t seem like that’s actually what’s happened.

          The cause of the drop-off remains to be seen, but recent responses to journo queries are interesting. They state that the car has always been legal for whichever race is being questioned, rather than state that they have made no changes to make the car legal under TD018 and the TD039 (2022) refresh.
          The latter emphasises the restrictions on floor flex, bend or shift.
          The FIA altered the wording slightly to deal with at least one competitor (according to their press release)

          Bear in mind that the date of issue of TD018 and the TD039 refresh isn’t the first warning teams have had about the “clarifications” so the teams were free to modify before the issue date, so anyone with a steep dropoff in performance at or just before the issue date could have been in the grey zone, which turned black.

        2. Yeah Mclaren did indeed switch earlier like Mercedes but their changes seemed more substantial than Mercedes and took longer to deliver if I recall correctly. I think what they delivered is also a better fit for the concept change than what Mercedes ended up with which is why they’ve continued development a little longer. I think Mercedes accepted there was simply too many compromises on their package to waste too much development on this year but obviously they do need to do some research for next year.

          I think Mercedes need to redesign their tub layout to pull back the driver position to improve the feel for their drivers, change the rear suspension and of course the gearbox to allow new mounts required for new rear suspension geometry. They need to thin the gearbox in line with what Red Bull have done. I then think they need to slim the engine cover back down as the extra cooling is not required there with the sidepods being available to them next year.

          The car needs to be able to be more stable across all conditions rather than just super stiff being the only way to get the downforce. They need to improve their aero effficiency and master the DRS stalling effect like RBR. They need to improve their energy deployment and also improve power where possible (through reliability changes).

          I’m not a F1 designer/engineer obviously but there is a lot of stuff that seems low hanging fruit that they couldn’t touch this year due to the costs of changing the monocoque or redesigning the rear gearbox.

      2. Apart from finding out their base concept is wrong, I expect most teams to use as much of their budgets as they can spare to actually bring updates for next years car but doing so this year.

        Since the technical regulations are more or less stable, it makes a lot of sense to just tune their current car, because everything they learn can be carried over and bits they introduce this year that can be used almost “as is” on next years’ car will be “free” for that season and tested on track as well as bringing some progress in the races.

    3. Looks like Aston and Mercedes suffered more from the last TD.
      This could be very interesting for both mcLaren and Ferrari

  3. Except that tyre temperature and management isn’t a small thing.
    Especially when in quali it can give or lose your tenths up to seconds, and in the race tenths per lap and significantly more laps per stint.

  4. Except that tyre temperature and management isn’t a small thing.

    There is a reason RBR protested the Merc wheels and their airflow, and rallied the rest of the grid to do so too.
    There is a reason RBR protested the Merc DAS, and rallied the rest of the grid to do so too.

    Neither were illegal, until the protest got the FIA to make them so, but both were quite technical designs and likely to be expensive to replicate.
    Both were means of dealing with tyre warm up and temperature regulation.
    It’s probably the reason you can be sure that Merc designs are legal, because even if they are, RBR are there to try to get clever stuff banned (if they aren’t doing it too)

    1. I think it’s fair to say that DAS was clearly against the spirit of the rules if not the wording in the regulations. I mean I think it was a great innovation and didn’t disagree with the end result of them being allowed it for the year but it’s not too different to the situation with flexible floors that Mercedes protested heavily. Of course a key difference is before the 2022 season (which was a big rule change), all teams were told that if someone did something that fell into a grey area then they reserved the right to update the regulations quickly to stop it.

      It is absolutely clear though that managing tyre temperatures optimally can deliver over a second extra performance per lap. Such that if a team gets their setup wrong on a weekend now, they can be vastly off their natural pace.

  5. Norris discusses how the new nearby wind tunnel will improve design efficiency, but the teams are still limited as to tunnel hours. As they have to use 60% (or less) scale models, would it be possible to fit two models in the tunnel at the same time? Yes, this would require another model mount, etc. and would require separation of the models to avoid interference, but tunnel speed is limited to 60 m/sec. So…..

    1. I think the issue with putting other models or items in the tunnel is you risk creating different pressure elements so for example a car behind might create a low pressure element on the front wing that could pull the flow from the rear of the car in front downwards thus skewing the results you’re looking at. Also the only data you might get off the second model is how much performance was lost with dirty air as everything else would be potentially different in clear air.

      1. I was thinking about smaller components side by side.

  6. Coventry Climax
    30th September 2023, 1:43

    Ah, new wind tunnel. Hope they get their correlation tuned in correct and right from the start. Wouldn’t be the first time there’s issues there.

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