The ‘psychological challenge’ facing ‘spiralling’ Lando Norris during Belgian GP

Thomas Maher
McLaren's Lando Norris at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, July 2023.

McLaren's Lando Norris at the Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, July 2023.

Lando Norris had a race of two halves in Belgium, tumbling backward in the first half before a remarkable recovery.

Norris finished the Belgian Grand Prix in seventh place, a tremendous recovery after a very challenging opening stint. McLaren had been open about being vulnerable in dry conditions due to their high-downforce setup, due to not having optimised their low-drag configuration during their recent upgrades.

With Oscar Piastri eliminated on the opening lap following a collision with Carlos Sainz, it was down to Norris to save McLaren’s race – but his lack of straight-line speed saw him plummet from sixth to outside the points by the time the team tried something different.

Lando Norris was ‘spiralling’ during opening stint

Having dropped out of the points, McLaren brought him in on Lap 5 to take on the hard tyre – a move that backfired as he struggled for pace over the next 12 laps to fall down to last by the time McLaren tried something very unusual.

Fitting Norris out with the soft tyre as rain began to spit, the British driver was free to make the most of his middle-sector grip advantage and he quickly began to slice his way back through the field.

Despite McLaren requiring him to do around 60 percent of the race on the soft tyre, Norris successfully managed the herculean task to cross the finish line in seventh and rescuing the team’s race.

But team boss Andrea Stella explained that Norris had been “spiralling” negatively during the opening stint as he complained about his lack of pace and pleaded with his team for an alternative strategy as he was eaten up down the straights.

“So we were expecting the vulnerability but, indeed, when we were in the mix of the other cars, he was starting to spiral negatively, quite rapidly,” Stella told media, including

“We have to very frankly admit that, while this configuration gave us an advantage in the previous days, [Sunday] it was starting to be a significant issue.

“Then we didn’t help ourselves, in a way, by trying to give Lando free air and fitting hard tyres.” recommends

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While the high-downforce setup didn’t help for actual racing while trying to compete with other cars on equal terms, the offset strategy decision – combined with the downforce advantage – rescued Norris’ race. By being out of sync with most of the field, Norris was able to maintain his lap time without having to worry about another car latching on and using DRS to breeze past with ease.

“As a counterpart though, because we had enough downforce in the middle sector, that’s the reason why we could extend the run on the Soft tyres so long, and actually retaining competitiveness, even when the rubber was almost finished on the soft tyres. So it came to help us,” Stella continued.

The reason for the vulnerability was that, while McLaren have made huge steps forward with the MCL60, the work done has been to target the weaknesses of the package as a whole – specifically targetting their low-drag vulnerability hasn’t been top priority due to the few tracks that have this demand.

“But, overall, there’s some learning we take out of this weekend,” Stella said.

“It’s not like we necessarily wanted to target this configuration, fixing the efficiency of the car at low drag is on the to-do list. But it was lower than some other priorities that we have worked on in the previous months.”

Andrea Stella: It was psychologically challenging for Lando Norris

Having had to listen to Norris complaining to his interim race engineer, Stella praised his driver for successfully managing to keep his head down and concentrate once the opportunity arose for a turnaround in fortune.

“I think, initially, it was very tough. It was very tough even like ‘how do we stay in the race?'” he said.

“Psychologically, it was very challenging. But we talked about this before the race about ‘let’s not get dragged into being frustrated, let’s only think about how do we get out of this situation’.

“That’s why we triggered initially going out with an early stop on the hard tyres. That didn’t work. But then, once we realised that the rain was coming, we thought that was another opportunity.

“I think we got it perfectly right. So it’s tough. Ultimately, Lando handled it exactly like we discussed before the race. Let me remark on the quality of the job he did in driving such an amazing stint.”

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