Spanish GP data: The key factors that saw Lando Norris steal pole from Max Verstappen

Pablo Hidalgo
Max Verstappen and Lando Norris talk after 2024 Spanish Grand Prix qualifying.

Max Verstappen and Lando Norris talk.

Lando Norris pulled off a last-gasp surprise to snatch what looked like a sure pole position for the 2024 Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix from Max Verstappen.

The McLaren driver had to overcome a sensational lap from Red Bull’s Dutchman, who was helped by Sergio Perez in the form of a slipstream.

Data shows where Lando Norris made his mark

Norris took his second Formula 1 pole position – not counting the Sprint format – after his first at the 2021 Russian Grand Prix. The McLaren driver completed a masterful lap at Montmelo to beat Verstappen and Red Bull.

The Dutchman was assisted by his team-mate as he tried to maximise his top speed on Barcelona’s main straight. But this hasn’t been enough to stop Norris and McLaren as happened to be the case back in Imola where Nico Hülkenberg became Verstappen’s ‘tow-buddy’.

However, Norris also benefited from a tow in Sector 1 in order to keep up with Verstappen. Tactically or not, the English driver also took advantage of a slipstream from Esteban Ocon who had already completed his flying lap. However, this slipstream was not as powerful and executed to the millimetre as the one planned by Red Bull, knowing that Sergio Perez had a three-place grid penalty and the best he could hope for was a P7 ahead of Pierre Gasly’s Alpine.

We reckon that Perez’s slipstream help to Verstappen may have been a tenth of a second more advantageous than the one Ocon provided Norris with.

The Frenchman got away from the racing line as soon as he realised he was benefiting a rival. Until that moment, the straight-line speed of the McLaren and the Red Bull was very similar. But in the end Norris was stuck at 325 km/h while Verstappen reached 330 km/h, the highest speed recorded today.

This tenth was then compensated in the long Turn 3 where Norris had a slight grip advantage over Verstappen. In Sector 2, McLaren had the upper hand thanks to the MCL38’s better slow-speed cornering performance compared to the RB20.

As we said yesterday, this sector was Red Bull’s weak point and McLaren has been able to optimise its performance to get an advantage of +0.139s in that part of the track compared to Red Bull.

Verstappen came into Sector 3 with more grip and lower tyre temperatures and this allowed him to recover in Turn 12 most of the time lost, but in the end Norris and the MCL38 were quicker overall in Barcelona. To be precise, just 20 thousandths of a second quicker, but it was enough.

Key talking points from Spanish GP qualifying

👉 Red Bull advantage ‘completely gone’ in Max Verstappen’s ‘not good enough’ verdict

👉 Lewis Hamilton makes mockery of ‘sabotage’ conspiracy in W15 ‘racing machine’

The fight for pole position has been marked by minimal details. Verstappen lost P1 in qualifying for the third consecutive Grand Prix. A surprising fact considering that the Red Bull driver had just equalled Ayrton Senna’s all-time record of most consecutive pole positions just a few races ago. Since then, none for him.

It is also worth commenting on Mercedes’ step forward. Although the Silver Arrows were more than three tenths of a second off pole position in the timesheets, the performance of the W15 was good enough for more, as the ideal lap chart shows. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell had the potential to be at under two tenths of a second off Lando Norris’ time.

On the other hand, the disappointment of qualifying was Ferrari. The Italian team has been surprised by Mercedes and a spectacular Lando Norris and Max Verstappen. It looked like they could be in the battle, but in Q3 their weaknesses were exposed.

A poor Sector 2 and not finding the optimal operating tyre window has condemned them to P5 and P6 for tomorrow. Despite this, they have a good chance of fighting for the podium. Ferrari has opted for a reduced downforce level setup and if they can manage tyre wear correctly, tomorrow they can be back in the mix.