Lando Norris, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024

Norris faces the longest 11 seconds of his season starting from pole

2024 Spanish GP pre-race analysis

Posted on

| Written by

If the start/finish line at the Circuit de Catalunya was just 100 metres further down the long main straight than it is, Max Verstappen would probably be starting on pole position for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.

But he isn’t – Lando Norris is, by just two-hundredths of a second.

The margin could have been greater, but after Norris had the tiniest of confidence lifts through the fast final corner, while Verstappen who remained flat throughout, the Red Bull was gaining on him all along the run to the line and could have easily beaten the McLaren had the timing line been just a little further along.

But having prevailed around the 4,657 metres of a qualifying lap, Norris now has to beat Verstappen over the 579-metre run from pole position to turn one – the longest on the calendar.

With four different teams appearing in the first five places on the grid, and potential intervention from the elements, this promises to be the most open and enthralling grand prix this circuit has seen in recent memory.


Lando Norris, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024
The clouds rolled in and rain is now expected
After three practice session in warm, sunny conditions, qualifying saw clouds begin to cover over the circuit for the first time in the weekend. As a result, temperatures dipped slightly compared to what drivers had experienced until that stage, with track temperatures around 10 degrees lower than Friday’s practice sessions.

Heading into Sunday, things are likely to be even cooler, and potentially also wet.

Forecasts indicate a strong chance of rain during Sunday morning in Barcelona, making for a very challenging day for the F2, F3 and F1 Academy drivers who will be racing then. The rain is expected to pass before the grand prix starts at 3pm, but there is always a risk that the track will be damp or drying by the time the lights go out.

The cooler track temperatures expected from the change in weather could help drivers to manage their tyres in what is expected to be a difficult race for degradation. But by washing the existing build-up of rubber away, the track may also become more punishing. Either way, drivers are likely to discover very different conditions when they head out for their reconnaissance laps, and how well they adjust to them will be critical for their prospects.


Race start, Circuit de Catalunya, 2023
Medium-shod Verstappen held Sainz on softs back in 2023
Pole-winner Norris knows the 11-second run to turn one presents his closest rivals, Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton an excellent chance to erase his hard-won advantage.

“It’s a long run down to turn one,” Norris said after qualifying. “It’s probably one of the places you don’t want to start on pole, but it’s an opportunity for us to go out and try and win a race”.

But despite Verstappen having the opportunity of being the hunter and slipstreaming the McLaren on the run to turn one, the championship leader would much rather be in Norris’s grid slot.

“I would always want to start first,” Verstappen said. “It’s a bit easier to defend like that. I think our top speeds are all quite similar and we don’t have DRS, of course, into turn one with the start. So again, it all depends on how good your start is going to be.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free


Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024
Verstappen used all three compounds when he won last year
When drivers performed their long runs in Friday’s second practice session, many were quick to report high wear on their compounds as they kept their tyres under sustained load through the many long, fast corners around the circuit. Should it stay dry, Norris expects the race will be decided by who can be kindest to their tyres.

“I think it’s all about degradation tomorrow and how you look after the tyres,” Norris said. “It was pretty decent [during practice]. I don’t know if it was as good as Max’s, but I’ll try and make it better tomorrow.”

Pirelli expects that degradation level to lead drivers to a two-stop strategy, as occurred last season. As Verstappen started on the mediums, switched to the hards, then fitted softs for the final stint.

“On paper, the quickest strategy does indeed involve the use of two sets of C3 [softs] and one of C2 [mediums],” said Pirelli’s motorsport director, Mario Isola. “We can rule out a one-stop strategy because it’s too slow, but the idea of a four stint, three-stop race is not so far-fetched, being only a handful of seconds slower than a two-stop.”


When it was first announced that the Circuit de Catalunya would do away with the unpopular chicane in the final sector and return to its fast, sweeping final corners, many hoped that this would lead to more overtaking around a track that has never really produced great racing.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024
Passing is often challenging at this circuit
However, statistically speaking, last year’s race did not stand out as having dramatically more passing than those before it. There were a total of 49 on-track overtakes here last year without the chicane – just a few more than the 43 and 44 passes made during the two years prior.

Concerningly, though, many drivers reported some problems with being able to follow rivals through the high speed corners here last year as the ground effect cars started to mature in their development and grow more sensitive aerodynamically as a result.

“The new layout I’m not sure helped that much,” suggested Pierre Gasly after last year’s race. “I feel like it’s more or less the same.”

Another factor that could limit overtaking is how much tyre saving drivers have to employ over the course of the race. If it proves more difficult for drivers to slipstream their rivals along the pit straight and try to pass into the first corner than it was last year, then that could lead do one of the most conspicuous DRS train effects of the season so far.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Safety Cars

Some tracks are naturally conducive to incidents and Safety Car interventions. Others, like Barcelona, are very much not.

Over the last five grands prix held at the Circuit de Catalunya, there have only been two Safety Car periods. One for a two-car collision between Norris and Lance Stroll in turn two and the second for Yuki Tsunoda grinding to a halt in the final sector.

With drivers knowing the track so well, mistakes are rare and so races tend to run from lights to flag without interruption far more often than not. The long run to turn one and the natural funnel effect through the opening two corners does see a fairly high risk at the very start of the race. But if all 20 cars make it through the first lap without trouble, it’s likely the rest of the 65 laps will run green.

One to watch

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2024
Piastri faces a tough race from lowest grid position this year
Valtteri Bottas believes Sauber have their best chance of scoring points of the season so far on Sunday – something his team desperately need. However, given that the rate of attrition at Circuit de Catalunya tends to be so low, it feels like Bottas is likely going to be disappointed in his bid to finish in the top ten.

Instead, the obvious candidate would be Oscar Piastri. While his team mate stormed to pole position, the second McLaren driver attempted just one run in Q3 and was on course for at least a second-row start until he ran wide at the exit of turn 12, which left him ninth on the grid.

While his team mate will be fighting for victory out front, Piastri will looking to clear several cars ahead of him that should not be as fast as his McLaren here this weekend. Piastri will not just be looking to save face by moving up in the race, his presence in the top positions will be required as McLaren will need every point they can get in what is likely to be a very competitive battle in the constructors’ championship over the remainder of the year.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Over to you

Will Norris hold on for his second win? Share your views on the Spanish Grand Prix in the comments.

2024 Spanish Grand Prix

Browse all 2024 Spanish Grand Prix articles

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

10 comments on “Norris faces the longest 11 seconds of his season starting from pole”

  1. Will Norris hold on for his second win? – I hope so, but I’m skeptical he can achieve than on pure pace.
    The distance from pole position to T1 isn’t the championship’s longest actually, at a little under 700 meters, but still long for Norris to be somewhat vulnerable.
    Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez definitely has the longest such run at nearly a kilometer or around 980 meters from pole position to T1 apex.
    A track becoming green from rain usually means higher deg, so everyone being forced to a three-stopper wouldn’t surprise me.
    Returning to the fast penultimate corner indeed didn’t really make a difference for overtaking, & even though last year’s race featured a few easy-looking passes into T1, those happened solely because of three drivers (Perez, Leclerc, & Russell) starting out of position & varying strategies which led to big tyre deltas for drivers simultaneously circling the track, so naturally following was easier for those, which consequently made overtaking seem easier than it truly was, but unfortunately, FIA still again shortened an activation zone for the sake of shortening (just like in Jeddah & Imola this year), which has zero benefits, but merely risks only stronger DRS train effect.
    I’ve simply been baffled that they started shortening again after having decided to stop during last season following a driver request, & despite following only getting harder & harder within stable technical regs.

  2. There are still 3 drivers yet to outqualify their teammate this season.

    Perez: 0-10 Verstappen
    Zhou: 0-10 Bottas
    Sargeant: 0-9 Albon

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      23rd June 2024, 10:45

      I almost feel that canada should count for sargeant. At least it is fair not to count it at all.

  3. Also the H2H quali between Albon and Sargeant is insane.

    0-31 now

    1. But against Perez it is 6-25.

  4. I don’t see Norris being in P1 by the second corner (he doesn’t seem so sure himself). Depending on their start, any one of Verstappen, Hamilton, even Russell could get level and past on the run down. It should be the most competitive (and maybe incident-friendly) first corners and race this year. The Red Bull has good top speed for DRS passing, the McLaren and Mercedes may have slightly better overall race pace. I think this is set for a Mercedes win, but there’s the factor of whether their drivers work together, the team makes the right strategy calls, or whether the drivers end up fighting each other and losing out that way.

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      23rd June 2024, 10:39

      It depends. Jarno Trulli managed to take the lead in 2004 despite starting 4th, however Michael Schumacher on pole did end up winning the race. Two years earlier Michael also got a Grand Chelem

  5. The British Baricking Committee in full voice today. God it’s painful to watch, honestly. Are they actually aware the telecast isn’t just broadcast to the UK?

    1. F1TV has gotten much worse with this. They’re constantly emphasising that Norris and Russell are “the British driver”. It’s a missed opportunity for diversity that F1TV has become such an carbon-copy of SkyUK.

      1. Neither Sky nor F1 TV have a bias that is even remotely comparable to what you see on German or Dutch television. And I’m guessing it’s the same in France or Spain.

        Anyone complaining about British bias doesn’t know how lucky they are to have commentators that are leagues above their counterparts from other countries.

Comments are closed.