Why Lando Norris should fancy his chances at a second F1 win

Strategy for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola will be key but track position will be the biggest factor

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Max Verstappen will start on pole position for an eighth consecutive race but victory on Sunday at the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix is not going to be easy, far from it.

Formula 1’s newest race winner Lando Norris lines up in second after moving to the front row thanks to Oscar Piastri’s three-place grid penalty for impeding Kevin Magnussen in qualifying.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz lock out the second row, with Piastri in behind to make up a fierce top five, who could all be standing on the top step of the podium after 63 laps around Imola.

Verstappen unsure about race pace

Red Bull had a difficult Friday, which led to many thinking Verstappen wouldn’t be in the fight for pole. However, great work back at the factory on the simulator, with Formula E drivers Sebastien Buemi and Jake Dennis helping massively in Milton Keynes.

F1 tyre strategy options for the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP | Pirelli
F1 tyre strategy options for the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP | Pirelli

Big setup changes were made ahead of final practice on Saturday, then further tweaks for qualifying which gave Verstappen a nice feeling to pull of a sensational lap to secure pole.

But, the reigning F1 world champion hasn’t driven the car with high fuel, so it’s not clear what his tyre degradation will be like and whether he will still have strong pace on a long stint.

“Friday was terrible in long run and short run,” said Verstappen. “Final practice we wanted to do a long run, but then we only did like three laps. But also there it didn’t feel good.

“But I also had no balance in the short run, so then it’s quite normal that in the long run it’s not good.

Max Verstappen during final practice ahead of the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen in action at the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“Naturally, I think with the balance that I had in qualifying, it will be better. But I have no clue against McLaren. They looked very strong on Friday in their long run, so hopefully we can do something similar.”

Norris to repeat Miami heroics?

On Friday’s long runs, McLaren had the most consistent pace on both the medium and hard tyre. Leclerc actually had the quickest race simulation but Norris did more laps and was only one tenth slower on average, suggesting McLaren are slightly faster over a long stint.

It’s a long run down to the first chicane and things can get very tight as Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton showed when they banged wheels in 2021.

Getting a good launch is so important for Norris because he must keep the Ferraris behind at the start. Ideally, get ahead of Verstappen but it’s not over if he isn’t leading after the first lap.

“The whole weekend, the car has been performing well and the team have been doing a good job,” said Norris. “But I don’t expect us just to have like an easy day.

Lando Norris during practice for the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP | McLaren
Lando Norris during practice for the 2024 Emilia Romagna GP | McLaren

“I think to overtake here is pretty much impossible. But at the same time, if we can pressure them and kind of keep on their toes throughout the whole race and have a performance like Miami, then I think we can be optimistic, of course. Just the overtaking and the strategy is probably a bit harder than what was in Miami.”

What is the best Imola strategy

Speaking of strategy, it should just be a one-stop race even though Pirelli have brought the three softest tyre compounds to Imola. This year’s tyres are a step softer than the 2020, 2021 and 2022 races.

You lose around 28 seconds though when pitting under green flag conditions, which is one of the highest losses on the calendar, so it’s just not worth pitting for a second time, unless there is a timely safety car.

Medium to hard should be the strategy most drivers use but if you are one of the Ferraris, Piastri or Sergio Perez in 11th, maybe it’s worth being vulnerable on the first lap by starting on the hard tyre to run long and hope for a fortunate safety car or virtual safety car, just like Norris had in Miami.

Tyre warm-up issues have been a trait at Imola since F1 returned to the track in 2020 but the conditions are much hotter this weekend compared to those races at 45 degrees celsius on the track.

Nevertheless, if Norris is in second place behind Verstappen during the first stint, he should keep his tyres in tact, go long, force his rival to pit and then really go for it to try an overcut. That could be the winning strategy to give McLaren their first consecutive wins since 2012.

John Smith
John Smithhttps://total-motorsport.com
Editor at Total-Motorsport.com and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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