Lando Norris, McLaren, Interlagos, 2023

McLaren definitely didn’t expect to be this close to Red Bull in Brazil – Norris

Formula 1

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Lando Norris says he’s satisfied with his result in the Brazilian Grand Prix sprint race despite being beaten to the win by Max Verstappen.

The McLaren driver took pole position for the Saturday sprint race ahead of the two Red Bull drivers of Verstappen and Sergio Perez but lost the lead to Verstappen on the run to turn one.

Norris admits he isn’t sure what it was about his start off the grid that allowed Verstappen to jump him into the first corner.

“I was first, then second,” he said. “I don’t know – I have to rewatch it, I’m not sure what happened.

“My reaction and initial drop was good, but then the second phase, not so good. But that’s all I know for now. So a tough opening lap, I would say. Obviously not what I wanted and then always difficult to manage the tyres as much as you want, when you’re in second. But it was still a good race, was still good fun.”

Norris lost another place on the opening lap after he was passed by George Russell when the Mercedes driver dived inside of him at Bico de Pato. Norris admits that he was “caught sleeping a little bit” by Russell.

“He was pushing a lot on the opening couple of laps,” Russell said. “I feel like maybe he paid the price quite heavily on lap three and four and five – and six and seven and eight, all the way to the end.”

After repassing Russell, Norris remained within two seconds of the leader for the first 17 laps of the 24 lap sprint race.

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“I tried then to get into DRS of Max,” he explained. “I thought if I had an opportunity, I would try and get it early on so I kind of control the race a little bit more from out front in some cleaner air.

“But I never quite got close enough and struggled just a little bit too much, especially the last five laps of the race, to look after the tyres as much as what Max was able to do. Nevertheless, a strong race and good points.”

Tyre management was the central theme of the sprint race as the vast majority of the field chose to run on the softest compound of tyre. After running on the same set of tyres that he set the pole position time for the sprint race, Norris said he was actively trying to save his tyres from the morning qualifying session.

“I was managing in qualifying already,” he said. “These are the tyres from qualifying.

“It’s a tough circuit, you don’t feel like you can push anywhere. It’s kind of always a little bit like this, but it feels similar to Circuit of the Americas in a way – you do two laps then after that, you’ve got no grip and you’re managing. You have one little wheelspin and it costs you two or three tenths straight away. So again, a management based race.”

Having taken pole position and secured second place, Norris says the strong performance was not what McLaren had expected heading into the weekend.

“There were positives, because this definitely wasn’t a circuit we were expecting to be at all close to the Red Bull,” Norris explained.

“If you look at our data from last year and where we were good and bad, this definitely wasn’t up there with one of the good ones. We weren’t expecting it to be a necessarily very good one. Sometimes we’re good in qualifying and then quite poor in the race, but today we were good comparing to everyone – except Max. So tough, but a good day for us, I think.”

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Will Wood
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8 comments on “McLaren definitely didn’t expect to be this close to Red Bull in Brazil – Norris”

  1. Robert Henning
    4th November 2023, 23:48

    I don’t know what he’s expecting but Verstappen had it all covered and was comfortably doing 1.15s without any issues.

    Perez cooked his tires fighting but might be good tomorrow if he gets a clean start.

    Although I would expect him to fight his brother a little more. He isn’t winning anything this way.

    1. Who has to fight his brother?
      Peres fight Max? Or Lando fight Max?

      There was s no fight that either can win with Max (and his car) in the form he is.
      They could try some kamikaze action, like Perez last week, but those would,only result in a win of it would get Max out of the race. Just a pass on a lap will mean Max will pass back next few laps.

      1. Robert Henning
        5th November 2023, 0:14

        Lando and Max. Sorry for the poor wording.

        I’m not sure, I always feel Lando has accepted that Max is better than him and just doesn’t care about sending one. Lando has nothing to lose, neither does Max. So might as well try something. If it sticks you profit else no.

        Lando seems a guy who just likes to miss opportunities. When the car is good he drops the ball. Should have been pole yesterday but he starts somewhere behind.

        Verstappen of the old and the current with a similar car as Lando would try something to win. In the current grid only Russell has that attitude but lacks the ability and the others aren’t upto it.

        1. RandomMallard
          5th November 2023, 8:55

          Lando has nothing to lose, neither does Max.

          I don’t think this is quite the case. As it stands, Lando is just 7 points behind Alonso in the WDC, and only 8 behind Sainz in 4th. Overtaking either of these would give him his best WDC finish of his career (his current best is 6th in 2021). On the other hand, he’s only 6 points ahead of Leclerc at the moment, and the gap back to Russel is still a relatively small 20 points. Max has proven in the past that he will make it difficult to overtake, so while it definitely does feel like another missed opportunity for Lando, it’s probably better for his season if he finishes 2nd comfortably, rather than fight too hard for 1st, and either burn through his tyres or risk a DNF or damage, all for the sake of 1 extra point, which is a battle he was always likely to lose anyway in my opinion.

          Regarding pole for the GP today, my understanding is McLaren sent him out a little later in Q3 because they believed the rain was going to come much later in the session. Again, while a big disappointment for Norris, I think the forecast just caught the team out a little bit.

          I can definitely agree with your final sentence though. Thinking about it, I do wonder if his experience at Sochi in 2021 has made him extremely risk averse in situations like this? As you say, he does sometimes seem to not fight a bit too often, although this does have some benefits for him, as he and Max are the only full-season drivers yet to DNF this year. At the end of the day, I guess it comes down to what him and the team think are more important: getting that first win (trust me, I would love to see it), or the final WDC position.

          1. Robert Henning
            5th November 2023, 10:23

            All fair points, I agree. I just wish drivers showed a bit more character.

            For me, McLaren have the car to get P4 in WDC without worrying about Brazil itself. They’ll be comfortably 2nd/3rd fastest at Vegas and 2nd at AD looking at their entire development curve.

            But yeah you do have a valid point re personal achievements.

            How I see Lando is that he had the car to win at Monza and Sochi in 21, now he had the car to win Qatar by his own admission and Verstappen couldn’t really fly off and maybe if he had led for a few laps yesterday maybe Max would be under pressure.

            I somehow see Lando as a very rapid driver who I believe is as fast as anyone on that grid. He seems to lack that extra bit to nail it down, make a point and get results which I’ve seen every great do.

    2. There is no point in fighting as long as he knows the RB is cruising faster than he is driving on a push lap. The result won’t change, the RB will eventually pass anyway, but it will hurt his tyres and make him vunrable to the cars behind.

      Good drivers know when to fight and when to consolidate. It is not about the glory of that one (pointless) overtake, it is about maximizing your points over a race of even season.

      1. Robert Henning
        5th November 2023, 10:25

        Counterpoint is Perez cooking his tires in the traffic. Of course if you give Max the lead he’s going to manage. Put him in traffic and things don’t look rosy.

        You expect drivers to fight. Lando seems to open the door for Max every time. I can understand midfield teams doing it but Lando when his car is hardly off pace? No.

        Good drivers also grab chances to win. They don’t lose every winnable chance to their teammates.

        I agree with RandomMallards post more but thank you for your comment as well.

  2. BLS (@brightlampshade)
    5th November 2023, 10:20

    By close, he means able to keep up with a cruising Red Bull? McLaren did seem best of the rest again today and given where they started the year they should be rightly happy with that.
    Next year is the big test.

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