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Formula 1 Qatar GP

Why Norris challenging Qatar team orders was part of McLaren F1 protocol

McLaren says Lando Norris challenging its hold position order in Formula 1’s Qatar Grand Prix was normal – because it is protocol for drivers to question team instructions. 

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, 2nd position,rea Stella, Team Principal, McLaren, Lando Norris, McLaren, 3rd position, with the trophies

Norris had emerged after the final stops behind team-mate Oscar Piastri, as the pair looked set for yet another podium double.

But amid concerns that it could cost valuable time and potentially open the door for fourth-placed George Russell to come through if they raced each other, McLaren intervened to call off the fight. 

It came on the team radio to tell Norris to not challenge Piastri ahead, with the pair finishing in that order behind winner Max Verstappen. 

“We’re going to hold position,” messaged the team. “Bring it home.”  

But Norris quickly responded with: “Why do you want to do that? We have a big gap. I’m clearly a lot quicker.” 

The tone of Norris’s response appeared to point to him being frustrated by not having the opportunity to prove his pace against Piastri – especially after his impressive charge through the field from tenth on the grid. 

PLUS: How the F1 Qatar GP tyre farce flattered McLaren and hurt Verstappen

But team boss Andrea Stella says such an interpretation is wrong, as he revealed that there is a code of conduct between driver and pit wall about being honest if there is unease about any instruction. 

“In terms of the message you heard, this is part of our protocol, I would say,” explained Stella, when asked by Autosport about the situation surrounding the radio traffic. 

Lando Norris, McLaren, 3rd position, Andrea Stella, Team Principal, McLaren, Oscar Piastri, McLaren, 2nd position, the McLaren team celebrate after the race

Lando Norris, McLaren, 3rd position, Andrea Stella, Team Principal, McLaren, Oscar Piastri, McLaren, 2nd position, the McLaren team celebrate after the race

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“When we give drivers an instruction, we tell them to challenge us because we want to make sure we understand their point of view. So: ‘challenge us, tell us exactly what you think. We will reassess the situation and come back to you. But once we come back to you, just respect it.’ 

“And this is exactly what happened, and that's what you heard. We ask drivers to challenge us.”

Norris was not the only one who questioned the orders, because Piastri also had not anticipated McLaren intervening in such a way.  

“I was a little bit surprised, to be honest,” he said. “I would have accepted it either way. But obviously, there were a lot of concerns about tyres and track limits and stuff. But I think getting second and third for the team was the most important thing.”  

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While McLaren had said recently that it did not want to make a habit of imposing team orders on drivers, Stella felt that it was justified in Qatar. 

The concerns about tyres that overshadowed the race meant the team was well aware of how quickly a good result could be snatched from it – especially with memories fresh from Norris’s late heartbreak at the same venue in 2021. 

“We are in a place in which, we don’t have to forget, Lando was in P4 and a few laps to go he had the tyre failure and finished P9,” said Stella. “So you don’t want to take this risk.  

“You don’t want to induce your drivers to push and then have a track limit penalty. As soon as you tell them to push they use the kerbs because it makes the lap so much faster, so we recommended to stay away from kerbs and think about bringing it home. 

“Both drivers understood it very well and Lando was very happy on the in-lap, he was very complimentary with the team. It is a point of strength that our drivers help us manage the situation so proactively and constructively.”

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