McLaren has put forward a hypothesis as to why the rate of „driver problems” has increased of late, following Lando Norris’s „stupid mistake” in Abu Dhabi Formula 1 qualifying.
A clearly frustrated Norris bemoaned a „terrible” Saturday at the Yas Marina Circuit, with one mistake costing him a front-row start for the season finale.
„It was a little mistake, I don’t know why it happened, I didn’t do it at the weekend,” Norris said after qualifying fifth in Abu Dhabi.
„Disgusting, I do like work on Saturday.”
Norris was self-critical after qualifying for the fourth time in five races, his sprint in Brazil even beaten on the pole lap.
Mistakes in Qatar and especially Mexico cost him dearly as he was relegated in Q1, and asked if he was being too hard on himself, Norris said: „No. I should have been P2 and I’m finishing P5. A stupid mistake.
„I’m too soft on myself.”
McLaren team principal Andrea Stella thinks there may be a technical reason why Norris has made so many mistakes.
There’s a well-established tendency for this McLaren to be uncomfortable to drive at times, and its predecessors have also suffered from what Stella calls „famous McLaren characteristics” in recent years.
But McLaren is starting to wonder if the improvements brought to the MCL60 have created a new problem for drivers as it has greatly improved its overall performance over the season.
The theory is that the Singapore package makes the car more extreme in certain conditions.
Asked by The Race where Norris criticized himself for drawing the line between driver responsibility and the car being difficult to drive, Stella said: „It’s an interesting topic. It’s not an easy thing to describe some of the good engineering behind it. It takes a bit of explaining.
„It’s often difficult to understand where the driving element is, and is there an engineering element? Is there a characteristic of the car that makes it so extreme, so unpredictable, in certain situations?
“Certainly, in our discussion, we [arrived at] Lately we’ve been experiencing more frequent driving issues than usual.
„So is there anything we should look at – not the famous McLaren characteristics, but in this development, which certainly gave grip, we embedded some elements. [mean] Does the car lose grip too fast in certain situations?
„It’s a hypothesis. It has nothing to do with evidence, but you’re working on hypotheses so you can look at the data and look at the information with a key.
„It’s certainly a key in the coming days to see what we learn from these situations.”
Despite the possible mitigating factor, Stella believes how Norris reacts to his mistakes, particularly the way he talks about himself, is one of two things the multi-stage finisher can improve after this latest mistake.
Norris said he felt his own performance „deserved attention” because there were obvious positives in the work he did this weekend, and that it would be harmful to „punish” him.
Second, Norris sometimes „needs to accept that 99.9% lap is good enough”.
The Race asked Stella if the drivers were controlling each other too much and whether the performance of Oscar Piastre, third fastest in qualifying in Abu Dhabi, left Norris open to mistakes.
„First I can answer with 100% certainty: because we have two fast drivers, they both raise their game,” Stella said.
„When you look at the overlaps between the two in these practice sessions, even though we didn’t look that competitive at the time, we could already see that if you put the best of the two together we are really strong.
“Oscar had two places where he could work and adapt, and so did Lando – he had one place to work and adapt based on seeing each other’s data.
„Because you have a competitive team-mate, you can see how you can go quicker in certain places. That’s what happened.
„The second element [whether Piastri is pushing Norris into mistakes] It’s a little more difficult to estimate. But we need to make sure we support our drivers to extract their potential. It’s just continuous improvement.
„And when you’re qualifying you need to use all that information, including looking at trends. What happens at the point where we make a mistake? Under what circumstances did we do it? Is there anything that can be technically improved, but is there anything? Can it be improved from the human side?
„Of course when the team-mate is strong, we know this second element [the human side] will be more.
„It’s definitely something to think about.”
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