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Formula 1 Spanish GP

What Norris's last-stint regret tells us about F1's tyre mastery trick

Subtle methods have emerged about how to get the most from Formula 1’s current generation of tyres and the McLaren driver admits he didn't necessarily get it right in Spain

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, 2nd position, arrives in Parc Ferme

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, 2nd position, arrives in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

While Lando Norris’s hopes of victory in Formula 1’s Spanish Grand Prix were effectively derailed by his start, there was equally a phase late on that proved just as critical.

With the McLaren driver having earned himself a tyre offset against Max Verstappen, the advantage of fresher rubber in the final stint offered him a chance to overhaul the Red Bull for the lead.

Norris duly put on a charge and managed to get himself just 2.2 seconds behind at the chequered flag, but there was a sense of regret afterwards about how he handled that final 19-lap stint on Pirelli's soft rubber.

PLUS: The ruthless marker Norris laid down with his Verstappen squeeze at Barcelona

He was left pondering whether or not he should have stuck to his guns with a tyre trick that he and McLaren have got on top of this year.

This surrounds bringing in fresh rubber slowly after a stop, because it performs much better over the long haul, than if drivers gun it straight out of the pits.

Speaking after the race, Norris said: “It wasn't the longest final stint, so I didn't know if we were going to get to that time in the stint when I really start to catch.

“I think really, like the last three laps, the gaps were pretty big in terms of how much it was coming down. Yeah, it's a hard one.

“I don't know if maybe I pushed a bit too much in the beginning and struggled a little bit more at the end. It's very difficult to judge these things.”

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

What Norris is referring to is that, when he came out of the pits for the final dash to the flag, aware of the need to chase down a 7.696s gap to Verstappen, he elected to go on the attack.

His first flying lap was a 1m17.377s, and then two laps later he put in the fastest lap of the race – a 1m17.115s – as he began his hunt.

But, while pushing to the maximum like this may seem the obvious way to haul in the leader, F1 teams and drivers spend time and effort mastering the different approach that is often better.

PLUS: Why it wasn't just Russell's start that cost Norris the Spanish GP victory

It is one that involves actually taking it easier straight out of the pits.

Instead, drivers work to slowly bring their rubber in over a couple of laps – which ultimately leaves them with better stabilised pressures and temperatures that deliver better performance for the remainder of the stint.

As Pirelli’s chief engineer Simone Berra explains, it is all about getting tyres into a window where they perform at their peak.

“It's all related to carcass temperature, and then obviously the pressure,” he said. “There is a sort of inertia for the tyres.

“If you have a gentle introduction, carcass temperature and pressure increase progressively. So, as you start to wear the tread of the tyres, you stabilise at a lower pressure than pushing as soon as possible and having a big peak of temperature and pressure.

“We know that being lower with pressure is much better than having higher pressures, because you have a bigger contact patch for one. Plus, with the carcass temperature and pressure, even the cornering stiffness of the tyre can be better.

“When you turn in and you have the mid-corner phase, obviously with higher temperatures, you generate more problems with the handling. So, you generate more understeer for example if you saturate the front axle.”

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, in the pitlane

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, in the pitlane

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

According to Berra, the gains if drivers and teams can perfectly nail getting their tyre in the right window with this early stint treatment should not be underestimated.

“It's really team dependent but it [the difference] could be around half or one Psi,” he said. “So, it can be significant.

“If you are managing the tyres, you can keep the pressures and temperatures under control, and you can stabilise them where you would like.

“So, it's always a good compromise to have a gentle introduction. You have seen multiple times this year where a gentle introduction was beneficial compared to someone who pushed from the beginning of the stint.”

One classic example of this was Imola this year, where Norris took it easy early on in the final stint before his tyres hit their peak in another chase of Verstappen.

The British driver will never know for sure if the race would have turned out differently if he had taken it easier in the early laps of that final Spanish GP stint. But, with F1 as competitive as it is now, it is clear that picking the right approach – gunning it early with tyres or bringing them in gently – has emerged as a clear defining factor in the fight for victory.

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