McLaren exceeded Lando Norris’ expectations in the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend, delivering a pair of second places at a track the driver predicted would be one of the toughest for their car.
The Interlagos circuit would not play to the updated MCL60’s strengths, he explained: “There’s very few medium-high speed corners; a lot of very slow speed, second gear, third gear, which is just where we’re very weak.”
Yet after qualifying, Norris had changed his mind, admitting McLaren were “easily good enough to be quickest.” He had topped Q2 but a rain shower ahead of Q3 made track position critical and Norris was too late out of the pit lane to be in contention for pole.
On Saturday he proved his point by taking pole for the sprint race, where he went on to finish second. Despite his compromised starting position for the grand prix a stunning start lifted him to second place, where he finished again.
McLaren did not have all the answers to why they had been more competitive than Norris had predicted. But team principal Andrea Stella said the car’s latest upgrades, added at the Singapore round in September, were delivering even more than they expected.
“I think generally we are gradually acknowledging the fact that it looks like together with the Singapore upgrade we have also been able to cash in some improved capability to limit tyre degradation,” he said. “And now I think we have observed this behaviour for enough races to say that it is a consistent pattern.
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“So partly this is coming from the car. At the same time, I think Lando having a car that allows him to do a little bit more of what he wants, he’s taking advantage in order to stress the tyres less.
“I think the main enabler was the development of the car and then as soon as the car allows you to do something the drivers understand how to get further advantage out of that.”
McLaren’s strong Friday pace left them “looking forward to” – but not expecting – front-running pace on Saturday. Norris’ result in the sprint race, when he kept pace with Verstappen for the opening laps until the Red Bull’s superior tyre management told, was “beyond whatever we expected this weekend” according to Stella.
Stella agreed the team had lowered its expectations of how competitive it would be at Interlagos, given its weakness in low-speed corners at previous tracks, but found the car performed better than expected.
“Concerning the points of strength or weakness at this track, overall I would say that we are again surprised that we are generally competitive here. But this follows this kind of surprise, if you allow me to say, from Mexico and even Austin. We thought it would have been more difficult.
“We are definitely very quick in corners six and seven [Ferradura], which is the highest-speed corner, and even in corner 11, which is the downhill left-hander [Mergulho], and corners two and three [Senna S]. In the low-speed, we see that we still struggle a bit. Luckily there’s enough of a medium-speed at this corner to make up for the time we lose in the low-speed.”
He stressed the car’s performance was in line with what their simulations predicted, but admitted they had been surprised by the relative competitiveness of their rivals. “There’s no surprises in terms of the performance of the car itself,” said Stella, “But what you don’t get in simulation is the competitiveness.
“When you put the car in the midst of the other cars or in competition with the other cars, what you know is that you have improved your car of a certain amount of lap time, and this for me is well reflected by the competitiveness. It’s slightly better than we would have anticipated this lap time improvement could deliver.
“So I’m not exactly sure why that is. Potentially it may be meaning that the lap time improvement, delivered by upgrades and delivered by other competitors might have been just smaller. Because we have seen many cars being upgraded. But it looks like if we have done a certain step, some other competitors have done just a smaller step.
“So car behaves as expected, but competitiveness is beyond expectation.”
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2023 Brazilian Grand Prix
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