Formula 1 Racing

How McLaren’s pre-race tactics put Verstappen and Norris on a collision course · RaceFans

Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, Red Bull Ring, 2024

The outcome of the Austrian Grand Prix was only indirectly decided by the team’s strategy calls.

The moment which swung the race was the lap 64 collision between leaders Max Verstappen and Lando Norris. That opened the door for George Russell, who had spent most of the race in the third place he started from, to break though for victory.

However had it not been for a key strategic decision McLaren made before the race began, Norris and Verstappen might not have come to blows in the first place.

Over the first two stints it looked unlikely Norris was going to be able to challenge Verstappen for victory. The Red Bull driver pulled almost six seconds clear from him over their opening stint when both were on the medium tyre compound. They switched to hards for the second stint, and on lap 39 Verstappen’s lead peaked at 8.1 seconds.

However the two teams faced different options for their final stints: Norris had a new set of mediums left, Verstappen a new set of hards. The hard tyres hadn’t worked as well in the race, and Red Bull appeared reluctant to risk them against McLaren’s superior rubber.

Verstappen had to switch to older tyres for the final stint

Over the final laps of his stint Verstappen’s lap times had dropped off so badly that with clean air ahead he was struggling to pull away from the lapped Haas pair behind him. His race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase told him they didn’t want to pit too soon and risk dropping him into traffic behind, which was undoubtedly a consideration, but it seems Red Bull also wanted to shorten his final stint on a pre-worn set of medium compound tyres.

When Red Bull finally took the plunge on lap 51, things got worse. A slow left-rear tyre change cost Verstappen over four seconds compared to the simultaneous stop of Norris. That swung the situation further in McLaren’s favour.

But over the remainder of the stint Norris used the benefit of tyres which were three laps fresher. He immediately took seven-tenths of a second out of Verstappen on them, and was latched onto the Red Bull driver’s tail from then on.

In previous races drivers were only able to attack for a handful of laps before their tyres went off too much to be able to continue. But with his fresher rubber, Norris sustained his tyre advantage for longer, and was able to repeatedly attack Verstappen. From that came the lap 64 clash which gave Russell his chance to win.

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2024 Austrian Grand…

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