Mark Hughes: Norris lost Canadian GP he should have won


The 2024 Canadian Grand Prix has proven to be a classic in Montreal with the weather regularly intervening at the perfect moments to keep the fight going between three different drivers on three different teams (although none of them were Ferraris).

The track itself, with the use of pavement that hurt Red Bull a bit and the narrow speed range in the corners that perhaps flattered Mercedes – and with a McLaren that was very good at everything – also helped shape this beautifully balanced competition.

One that was ridden in dramatic wheel-to-wheel style, sly walls just waiting behind the narrow dry ruts within the wet surface. It was everything Monaco wasn't. A race that put both teams and drivers under intense pressure, both strategically and on track.

It was won by Max Verstappen who was pretty much perfect in dominating a race in which Red Bull was merely a competitor, not a dominant one. But given the raw performance, Lando Norris and McLaren should have won it. They chose a combination of settings and tire pressures which, just as at Imola, required them to be gentle early in the stages but paid off spectacularly later and allowed Norris in the opening stint to go a long way. Back to pass Verstappen and George Russell the pole positioned Mercedes in quick succession and then take an 8 second lead.

As certain as anything can be on a day of such weather danger, he was looking forward to having it in the bag, the quickest, surest, best combination on the tires.

But what the Safety Car gave them in Miami was taken away from them here. Although the timing of the first safety car was unlucky for him, there was no need to miss the opportunity to enter. There was plenty of time. It was about 300 meters before the final turn that the S/C lights (on his dash and track) came on on lap 25 and he could have easily gone straight into the pits – as Verstappen, Russell and Oscar Piastri did next.

But the call never came and he never took the initiative. As Norris was then 10 seconds behind when the safety car picked him up on his lap and the others were driving their outside laps to the delta speed of the faster safety car, he therefore lost positions to both Red Bull and Mercedes, only coming out ahead of his teammate Piastri.

Verstappen had pulled ahead of Russell as the latter tried to defend Norris' pass on him at the final turn a few laps ago and was forced to head into the escape apron to avoid contact. The lost momentum made it easier for Verstappen to pick him off. They came out of the pit lane almost neck and neck after that but the Red Bull remained in front.

Norris and McLaren's decision not to immediately respond to the safety car saw him lose the race too late, despite strenuous efforts to correct the error. But given that McLaren and Norris made that mistake, Russell made so many others that he eventually lost for him The chance to face Verstappen for the win. Fighting against the gold standard of Verstappen and Red Bull, even on a track that poses challenges for him, such mistakes will never go unpunished.

The weather divided the race into two intermediate periods and a final slick. As the initial set of internal drills were about to wear out after about 20 laps, there seemed to be some painful choices to be made on the pit walls. New inters or spots? Get this call wrong and your race will be destroyed. If you get the timing wrong you will be in serious danger.

There was a dry line throughout the lap except for Turn 2 and the lap tops were approaching the slicks area. But there was more rain on the way. but when? So everyone was holding on to their ideas, delaying this choice for as long as possible.

Norris was now in his groove. He and Piastri had run the early laps conservatively in third and fourth and were ten seconds behind Russell and Verstappen after 10 laps. But that was the plan. From the second row, but as fast as the Mercedes and Red Bull cars in the front row, they chose to stealth. Part of that was the fairly high tire pressure, you will struggle initially in the wet but you will have longer life and stay stronger the longer you go.

It only took another nine laps before Norris was able to erase that early deficit and he was harassing Verstappen badly. Piastri had come with him. McLaren was clearly faster than Red Bull, and Norris was more aggressive. Russell was straight ahead of Verstappen, and within two laps Norris had successfully bumped them both with DRS assistance at the final corner. Not only that, he quickly left them behind, nearly 8 seconds behind four laps after taking the lead.

The uncertainty of what the weather was about to do played quite to his advantage, as it meant everyone was dragging out the task to prevent decision time – and the longer the period, the more Norris' settings rewarded him. Both Verstappen and Russell have had left rear problems so far and their pace on the track has not improved as was the case with Norris.

In hindsight, Norris' impressive tire life in the corners was against him when the safety car came out (Logan Sargeant crashed at Turn 4) on lap 25. The previous two laps Norris and Will Joseph had been debating whether he could stay in Turn 4. These tires during the next rain fall and go straight to the slicks where they subside after 10 minutes.

“It's dry enough to put on slicks now, but obviously if it's about to rain again, it could be very difficult to use worn tires,” Norris replied. For Verstappen and Russell, there was no such question to answer as the race came under a safety car; Their frames are finished. They needed to be replaced, it was a cheap pit stop, and it was about to rain again, so that was it. easy. With their original tires still in reasonable condition, Norris and his engineer were still debating whether they could miss the second stop when the safety car arrived but they barely interrupted that discussion.

He passed the SC sign located next to the track about 300 meters before the pit lane entrance. Had he stopped immediately and been prepared (if they were), he likely would have won the race. But he continued.

After he was caught behind the safety car at Turn 4, the discussion moved to the pits (still under the safety car) for the mediators. Which they did, but the safety car lost him by about 10 seconds in front of Verstappen and Russell and dropped him to third place.

On his new laps in the second stint, with the track now about 4 seconds slower, the plan was the same as the first time; Nice early in the mission to get the payback later. So Verstappen and Russell pulled away by about 3.5-4 seconds. But as the rain passed and the track began to once again approach the slick area, there were once again decisions to be made about the pitwall. The second turn was again the problem. By lap 38-39 it was good for slicks.

Gasly made the gamble with his wet clothes, he recounted. Hamilton entered from fifth in his group shortly after, as did Alonso one lap later. Verstappen and Russell made the call a lap after Alonso on lap 45. But Norris stayed out for two more laps, the reason being that his warm inside moves might be faster than the cold spots of Verstappen and Russell and thus he could pass them.

They were, but not enough to get ahead of Verstappen, Lando was slightly ahead coming out of the pitlane but they all crossed in the wet Turn 2 as Verstappen pushed on the inside.

More hindsight regret from Norris: “Maybe I was too late on that middle assignment,” Norris said. “We stayed out because I was very quick at the end of the stint but I didn't push early enough and I could have passed George a lap or two before the pit stops and closed the gap to Max to give myself a better chance of getting ahead. Overrated to cut him off.”

And then it was on with Verstappen running a 5.5 second lead on Norris whose high pressures were now working against him with the slicks. Russell passed him DRS on Route 49y lap but then had a big cross-country moment during Turn 4, giving the place back to Norris. Piastri was watching but soon had his hands full fending off Hamilton.

A second safety car (Carlos Sainz, who dropped out of the top 10, took control of the Ferrari and took out Alex Albon's Williams) allowed Hamilton a free pit stop for a new set of spots (difficult this time instead of medium), but Russell was keen to replace his Difficulties with mediators, which resulted in ceding a place to Piastri in the process.

They were briefly very quick on their new rubber but Russell found he could not scare Piastri sideways into the turn and after rubbing the wheels with the McLaren he was back in the run-off again.

This allowed Hamilton to pass and Russell had to be very committed in the braking zone at the final turn next time to regain the place before finally making a successful move on Piastri. But it all took up valuable time and tire life and so he finished third on a day when he might have been fighting for the win in the end.

Once Yuki Tsunoda spun his car right back on his very old tyres, Lance Stroll followed his Aston Martin teammate Alonso home in seventh ahead of Daniel Ricciardo's right back, and Gasly whose early strategy (and some team orders) put him ahead of the Alpine team The other. Esteban Ocon is ninth.

Monaco winner, Charles Leclerc, was in that race but with the PU in his Ferrari (and an ill-timed gamble), it didn't occur to him before the car retired while he was on a low lap, just confirming that this was nothing really like Monaco .



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