Lando Norris vs Max Verstappen at 2024 Spanish GP has ingredients for an F1 classic

Lando Norris and Max Verstappen have a race-long battle in their sights at the 2024 Spanish GP

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Friends off the track but two outstanding drivers on it. Lando Norris and Max Verstappen will line up together on the front row after a thrilling qualifying for the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix, with the hope Sunday’s race will be just as exciting.

Verstappen and Norris have finished first and second in four of the last five races. Norris has won just once, at the Miami GP, but there is clear momentum at McLaren.

Mercedes have come on strong too, with Lewis Hamilton edging out George Russell to start third. Both drivers will hope to end Mercedes’ winless run which dates back to November 2022.

Then comes an all-Ferrari third row and some slight disappointment for the Scuderia after they brought significant upgrades to Barcelona. Nevertheless, don’t count them out in playing a role in the fight for victory.

Tyre and pit stop strategy for 2024 Spanish GP | Pirelli
Tyre and pit stop strategy for 2024 Spanish GP | Pirelli

Lando Norris vs Max Verstappen

Red Bull’s race pace on Friday was slightly quicker than McLaren but rain overnight in Barcelona means the circuit is green and track position will outweigh any pace advantage.
The long run down to Turn 1 inevitably means Norris and Verstappen will end up side by side. Whether they take any risk or not is a big question.

We know Verstappen was very aggressive against Hamilton in 2021, but he may have the confidence this time to tuck into second and play the long game.

“I’m excited,” said Norris. “It’s a long run down to Turn 1. It’s probably one of the places you don’t want to start on pole, but it’s an opportunity for us to go out and try and win a race you know.

“We’ve not done loads of long running. We’ve done a bit and I think we were close, as it always has been. I think it’s not like this car is way quicker.

Max Verstappen and Lando Norris of McLaren after qualifying for the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen and Lando Norris have been the two form drivers in F1 this year | Clive Rose / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“I think between Mercedes, ourselves, Red Bull, Ferrari, there’s eight cars that could have probably been on pole and that have a chance of probably winning the race.

“It’s about making the least mistakes and just trying to execute another good race that we normally do.”

There is no bigger test than beating Verstappen on merit but that’s what Norris will have to do. The threat of the undercut means Norris must manage his tyres to respond to Red Bull’s strategy, so every lap, every sector and every corner is going to matter in the lead battle.

It feels like the F1 of 15 years ago, except we don’t have a championship fight, at least not yet. In the 2021 Spanish GP, Hamilton made an extra pit stop and successfully chased down Verstappen in a dramatic battle all the way to the end of the race.

“I think it’s still a bit unknown where we are, like all of us, in terms of pure pace in the long runs,” said Verstappen, who leads the drivers’ championship by 56 points from Charles Leclerc and 63 points from Norris.

“I’m hoping, of course, it’s going to be all very close, like it has been in the last few races. And I think, with the high degradation around here as well, you need to really look after your tyres.”

Lando Norris celebrates pole position at the 2024 Spanish GP | McLaren F1 Team
Lando Norris celebrates pole position at the 2024 Spanish GP | McLaren F1 Team

Two or three stops?

This is the big question. Everyone in the top 10 only has one set of hard and medium tyres left, so they will need to use a set of softs at some point. You would think this would come at the start of the race, to have more grip off the line, or at the end to be very racy.

We could see Mercedes and Ferrari split strategies with their drivers to spice things up. The amount of tyre degradation will also depend on the pace of the race.

Norris may decide to control things and Verstappen will follow, or they will both just go for it and end up making three pit stops.

“I’m sure the whole race I’m going to be under pressure and going to have to make those kind of calls,” said Norris. “I look forward to it. I look forward to racing against anyone.

“Probably Max is the guy on the track that I’ve raced the least, just because he’s always been too far ahead. Happy to now kind of be there and I’m sure whether I’m first or second coming out of Turn 1, it’s going to be a fight till pretty much the end of the race.

“I’m excited. I look forward to it. I’ve not had many opportunities to do so. When I have, he’s normally been about a second lap quicker, but that’s not the case anymore. So, I’m excited to just race against him and have some fun.”

Will Mercedes or Ferrari be in contention for the win?

You can’t rule out a collision between Norris and Verstappen, which would leave the door open for Hamilton, Russell, Leclerc or Carlos Sainz to take advantage.

Again, Friday practice suggested it was close between Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari. You would think the latter two teams will need to do something different though and maybe gamble on a well-timed safety car or virtual safety car.

You lose 23 seconds when pitting under green flag conditions compared to just 14 if there is a safety car or virtual safety car. That’s something to factor in when deciding when to pit.

Ferrari have saved a new set of soft tyres but that might not matter too much if they are outside the top four after one lap.

As for Mercedes, it’s simply a matter of will they have the pace to go with Norris and Verstappen? Hard to say, but they were quick in Canada remember.

Lewis Hamilton during 2024 Spanish GP weekend | Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton during the 2024 Spanish GP weekend | Mercedes

“I think the bigger concern probably is the Ferraris behind us,” said Hamilton. “Obviously, we were all within half a tenth, I think, from third to fifth and they had an upgrade this weekend, so I think their long pace look quite strong.

“I think it’s more working together as a team and trying to hold position at least. If we happen to have more pace available to us and we’re able to hold on to these guys, then it’s game on. But we really won’t know until the race.

“Degradation is always the key here. And when you have a really good rear end, you can save your balance, but you can save the rear tyres. So that’s going to be key.”

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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