Could Norris have beaten Verstappen to Austrian GP pole? - The Race
Formula 1

Could Norris have beaten Verstappen to Austrian GP pole?

Jul 3 2021
By Edd Straw

Lando Norris’s second place in Formula 1 qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix was a remarkable one, but with a gap of just 0.048s to Max Verstappen’s laptime, might pole position have been possible?

Sky Sports F1’s Karun Chandhok put together an analysis for British television that showed Norris was just ahead of Verstappen’s lap heading into the final corner. Norris then had a little more understeer that marginally limited his exit speed, ensuring Verstappen drew ahead.

This was supported by the fact Norris’s final mini-sector did not match his personal best, which was set as he began his final qualifying lap.

Max Verstappen Lando Norris

But whether Norris would have been able to get to the line half-a-tenth faster even with a perfect run through that corner, or indeed if his tyres had the grip at the end of the lap to permit that, is difficult to say with certainty. The answer is: perhaps. But that doesn’t mean it should go down as an underachievement given the all-round brilliance of Norris’s lap.

When asked by The Race if, having looked at the data after qualifying, pole position was possible, Norris replied: “Being honest, not really”.

“If I say yes, Max will say yes as well, every driver on the grid thinks there’s always this little bit you can gain,” he continued.

“The Red Bull is still much quicker than us, it’s just a fact they are better and Max pretty much did his time at the end in completely clear air, which if we did, we wouldn’t be where we were.

“A decent amount of laptime comes from having a slipstream and putting yourself in the right position and that helps us to be as quick as we are. Factually, we’re not able to do everything a Red Bull car can do and what Max does.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect lap, I don’t care who says there is but there isn’t. And I don’t think if I went again I’d be able to improve. I’m very happy with my lap.”

Everything Norris says there is correct. A McLaren cannot beat a Red Bull on merit but the time in question was a slightly slower Verstappen time than he would have achieved on the second run with better positioning in the queue.

Lando Norris McLaren Austrian Grand Prix 2021

But it’s also worth noting that Norris also needed to ensure he did not exceed the track limits at the exit of Turn 10. While his first-run time was ultimately good enough to hold second, having his final lap deleted could have left him vulnerable to being overhauled by Sergio Perez and the Mercedes drivers.

“It’s tough because it’s so easy to just run that little bit wide and get your lap deleted,” said Norris.

“And I think I’ve improved already quite a bit in those last two corners compared to the rest of my laps.

“So it’s risk versus reward.”

Norris judged that trade-off to perfection around much of the rest of the lap, taking a tenth of a second out of his first Q3 run time in the first sector, shaving 24-thousandths off in the middle sector and gaining a tenth in the last.

That’s why the more significant fact was that he outpaced the quicker Mercedes drivers to earn his first front-row position in F1, even if with a stunning run off the last corner he could certainly have been even closer to Verstappen.

WHERE DID McLAREN MAKE GAINS?

McLaren new floor

McLaren was significantly more competitive in qualifying for the Austrian GP than it was last Saturday ahead of the Styrian GP at the same circuit.

In terms of relative performance, McLaren was 0.362% closer to the pace than it had been last weekend, the biggest gain for any team other than backmarker Haas.

The McLaren did feature what team principal Andreas Seidl called a “small update on the floor, which probably helped” that was trialled on Friday and used by both Norris and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in qualifying.

This floor featured a set of eight vanes on the upper surface of the floor rear of the bargeboards. This was intended to better seal the underfloor, as well as allowing a less pronounced z-shape and the resulting increase in surface area of the floor itself.

McLaren new floor

Beyond that, Norris pointed to his own performance and improvements in execution to explain McLaren’s step forward.

“There’s not too much difference with the actual car in terms of specs or anything, it’s pretty much the same,” said Norris when asked by The Race to break down the reasons for the step taken.

“The lap I did was probably a bit better, putting it all together that touch more. We maximised the car last weekend and just made some very small tweaks for this weekend, so it’s not like we turned the car upside down and found anything new or something that suddenly works that didn’t.

“It’s just looking into more data, ironing out the little bits of inconsistencies and little things you struggle with. And then more just down to me delivering the lap when I have to.”

CAN IT FIGHT MERCEDES IN THE RACE?

Styrian Grand Prix 2021

In the Styrian Grand Prix, Norris didn’t put up a serious fight against Perez and Valtteri Bottas during the first stint given McLaren didn’t have the pace to beat them and his battle was with the cars behind.

He ultimately finished a lap and five seconds behind race winner Verstappen in fifth place. And while he joked that a fourth consecutive fifth place in the race tomorrow seems likely, he’s hoping the qualifying form could carry over into the race.

“We’ll do our best to try and take a step forward, but it wasn’t like we were exactly close last weekend,” said Norris.

“I don’t want to be too negative and I want to be optimistic as I can be, but I’m also realistic and know that it’s going to be a very tough race.

“We’re in the best position possible to maximise everything but if I have a chance to race Max and go for it, then I will.

“I’m still racing, I still want to do the best I can. But I think I also know what’s best for us, what’s best for myself and the team and who we’re sadly really racing against in the race tomorrow.”

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