Norris says Red Bull dominance down to 'small things'

Qualifying top three in parc ferme (L to R): Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren, second; Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing, pole position; Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren, third. 23.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images
© XPB 

McLaren driver Lando Norris feels that the difference between his team and the dominant Red Bull squad is now down to relatively small things - but nuances that nonetheless make a big difference out on track.

McLaren had a terrible start to the season, but their performance picked up as they introduced upgrades from the Austrian Grand Prix onwards, and now they look to be 'best of the rest' after Red Bull.

“In my opinion it’s just a very upgraded version of what we have,” Norris said of the current revised MCL60. “The characteristic of how we drive it is still the same, the problems we have are still the same.

"It’s not like we’ve stepped back and redone everything and it’s like ‘Yeah it handles completely differently’. We’re just going quicker, but with the same issues.

"[It's] the same issues for a lot of it which don’t allow us at the minute to compete with the Red Bull and to compete for championships and compete for race wins," he told RaceFans.

In last week's race in Japan, Lando Norris was second and Oscar Piastri joined him on the podium in third place behind the victorious Max Verstappen, all three well ahead of drivers from Ferrari and Mercedes.

It meant McLaren scored more championship points at Suzuka than any other team, although their poor start to the year means they remain fifth in the constructors championship with 49 points to make up to next-best Aston Martin.

Norris is hopeful that they will be able to break into the top four in the remaining six races of the season, but he also admits that overhauling Red Bull is an entirely different matter.

"Red Bull have been so competitive for so many years, they’ve been able to focus on some other areas where the very, very small things make a big difference," he explained.

(L to R): Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren celebrates his third position second placed team mate Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren. 24.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

"The Red Bull is not just quick in qualifying," he pointed out. "Where they’re very, very strong is the race, and that’s where you get the points. "Even if they have a bad qualifying day and start last, their chance of winning is still very high.

"It’s to do with tyre temperature and tyre management and all of these things," Norris suggested. "Their tyre degradation is extremely strong, their efficiency is very strong.”

He added that there are “quite a few other areas that we’re just not at the level that we need to be from a Red Bull perspective. As a result, while Norris is hopeful of a maiden pole at some point he's rather less optimistic of a race victory in 2023.

Lando Norris (GBR), McLaren F1 Team and Oscar Piastri (AUS), McLaren 24.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images

“If you said, ‘Do you reckon we could have a pole position this year?’ I’d be a lot more confident saying yes than ‘Can we win a race?’", he admitted. "They’re two very different answers and different confidence levels in the answering.

"So much focus has been put into putting us into the position we are now fighting for podiums and things like this. We needed that. Now the focus will shift into some of these other areas that we need to also focus on.”

Norris commented that the new wind tunnel at the McLaren Technology Centre would spur development for 2024.

“There’s nothing wrong with what we have now,” he said. “It’s just the rate of development and being able to literally just go next door, understand something, figure it out and come back and adjust it and go straight back in.

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL60. 24.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

“We can probably do ten more things in a day," compared with the old set-up of using Toyota's ageing facilities in Cologne, he added. "It’s just efficiency of work, and a lot of what Formula 1 is now is efficiency of work.

Norris added that the signings of Rob Marshal from Red Bull and David Sanchez from Ferrari would also have a big effect on the technical department at McLaren.

"I’m not saying anything’s the key," he admitted. "I don’t think there is a key to it all. But the progress rate is pretty substantial.

“What we’ve done so far this year has been a very, very positive sign I think, and a confidence-boosting sign for myself in knowing what the team have been able to do this season,”

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