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Formula 1

Norris or Verstappen? Mark Hughes on brewing British GP rematch

by Mark Hughes
4 min read

The prospects for a continuation of Max Verstappen vs Lando Norris at the British Grand Prix look good if practice is any guide.

Although Norris was quickest in the headline times of the second session and Verstappen only sixth, it wasn’t representative as Verstappen suffered a major moment at Becketts on his equivalent lap and abandoned it.

It’s difficult generally to make direct comparisons as the teams reacted differently to the forecast of rain before the end of the session. Red Bull concentrated on fine-honing its single-lap balance and used up two sets of softs each on the cars of Verstappen and Sergio Perez. McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari ran more conventionally, using just a single new set for each of its cars.

Perez - who missed the first session, handing his car over to the junior driver Isack Hadjar - benefitted from Red Bull’s two sets run plan and improved significantly on his second attempt to go third-fastest, a quarter of a second faster than Verstappen’s first attempt. But no one seriously believes that Verstappen is actually slower than his team-mate here.

The rain eventually came with around seven minutes of the session remaining and that left enough time for most to complete race stint simulations of between eight and nine laps. Norris’s McLaren had the fastest average on these runs, a couple of tenths ahead of Verstappen.

Their long runs were on the same C2 medium tyre, for the same number of laps, and run at roughly the same time. Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari run shadowed theirs closely in their timing and on the same tyres. What we don’t know is how their power unit modes compared.

Oscar Piastri split his time between the medium and the soft, as did Carlos Sainz at Ferrari. Sainz was in the pre-update Imola-spec Ferrari, Leclerc in the Barcelona update-spec as the team continues to try to understand why the upgrade is not delivering the simulated performance increase. At Mercedes, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton devoted their long runs solely to the soft C3 tyre.

Long run times

1 Norris 1m32.01s (9 laps, medium)
2 Verstappen 1m32.19s (9 laps, medium)
3 Piastri 1m32.22s (5 laps, medium)*
4 Russell 1m32.423s (8 laps, soft)
5 Sainz 1m32.5s (3 laps, medium)**
6 Leclerc 1m32.55s (9 laps, medium)
7 Hamilton 1m32.781s (8 laps, soft)
8 Stroll 1m33.41s (5 laps, soft)
9 Alonso 1m33.46s (5 laps, medium)

*Piastri also set a 1m32.422s six-lap average on softs
**Sainz also set a 1m32.76s five-lap average on softs

The McLarens were 1-2 in the headline times, but appeared to be running a slightly higher power unit mode than that of the Red Bulls. Norris’s lap was 0.4s faster than Perez’s, so suggesting that Verstappen would have been roughly on par with Norris had he completed his second lap. But with a likely lower engine mode.

The McLaren was consistently fastest of the top four team cars at the end of the straights, even in the DRS zones. It’s typically among the fastest on non-DRS parts of the straight but usually falls behind the Red Bull as soon as DRS is deployed. That wasn’t the case here, suggesting the Red Bull is either running a lower power mode or a higher level of downforce.

Downforce choices may change into Saturday as that uncertainty over the weather extends beyond just the Friday running, with an uncertain forecast for the rest of the weekend.

“The pace in dry conditions might not necessarily be that important for the rest of the weekend,” said Piastri. “So we’ll see. I think it’s going to be a tough one for all the teams trying to stay on top of the weather. Trying to stay on top of British weather is hard in normal times, let alone on a race weekend.”

Ferrari and Mercedes were closely-matched over one lap, albeit a few tenths shy of the potential McLaren/Red Bull pace.

“We struggled a bit more this afternoon than this morning,” reported Russell. “It got a little bit windier and I don’t think we quite nailed the tyres. But I think pretty similar competitiveness as we’ve seen in the last few races.”

There is doubtless plenty of competitive see-sawing still to come but the foundation of the weekend looks like the usual Verstappen vs McLaren contest.

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