Norris or Verstappen? Mark Hughes on the upcoming British GP rematch

NORRIS OR VERSTAPPEN? MARK HUGHES ON THE BREWING BRITISH GP REMATCH

The potential for another thrilling battle between Max Verstappen and Lando Norris at the British Grand Prix appears strong, especially if the practice sessions are any indication.

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Although Lando Norris set the fastest time in the second practice session and Max Verstappen only managed sixth, this does not reflect their true performance.

Verstappen experienced a significant moment at Becketts on his comparable lap, forcing him to abandon it.

Comparing performances was also complicated by the teams’ differing reactions to the forecasted rain towards the end of the session.

Red Bull focused on fine-tuning its single-lap balance, utilizing two sets of soft tires each for Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

In contrast, McLaren, Mercedes, and Ferrari followed a more conventional approach, using only a single new set of tires for each of their cars.

Perez, who missed the first session as he handed his car over to junior driver Isack Hadjar, benefited from Red Bull’s strategy of running two sets.

He significantly improved on his second attempt, posting the third-fastest time, a quarter of a second quicker than Verstappen’s initial effort.

However, no one seriously believes that Verstappen is genuinely slower than his teammate on this track.

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As the session drew to a close, rain began to fall with around seven minutes remaining. This allowed most teams to complete race stint simulations of eight to nine laps.

During these runs, Norris’s McLaren recorded the fastest average times, being a couple of tenths ahead of Verstappen.

Their long runs were conducted on the same C2 medium tire compound, for the same number of laps, and at roughly the same time.

Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari was close behind in terms of timing and also on the same tires. However, it remains unclear how their power unit modes compared during these runs.

Oscar Piastri and Carlos Sainz divided their time between the medium and soft compounds.

Sainz drove the pre-update Imola-spec Ferrari, while Leclerc was in the Barcelona update-spec, as Ferrari continues to understand why the upgrade is not yielding the expected performance increase. At Mercedes, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton focused their long runs exclusively on the soft C3 tire.

Long Run Times

  1. Norris: 1m32.01s (9 laps, medium)
  2. Verstappen: 1m32.19s (9 laps, medium)
  3. Piastri: 1m32.22s (5 laps, medium)*
  4. Russell: 1m32.423s (8 laps, soft)
  5. Sainz: 1m32.5s (3 laps, medium)**
  6. Leclerc: 1m32.55s (9 laps, medium)
  7. Hamilton: 1m32.781s (8 laps, soft)
  8. Stroll: 1m33.41s (5 laps, soft)
  9. Alonso: 1m33.46s (5 laps, medium)
    *Piastri also set a 1m32.422s six-lap average on softs
    **Sainz also set a 1m32.76s five-lap average on softs

While McLaren topped the headline times with a 1-2 finish, it appeared they were running a slightly higher power unit mode compared to Red Bull.

Norris’s lap was 0.4 seconds faster than Perez’s, suggesting that Verstappen might have matched Norris’s time had he completed his second lap, albeit possibly with a lower engine mode.

The McLaren was consistently the fastest of the top four team cars at the end of the straights, even in the DRS zones.

Typically, it is among the fastest on non-DRS parts of the straights but falls behind Red Bull once DRS is deployed. This wasn’t the case here, suggesting that Red Bull might have been running a lower power mode or a higher level of downforce.

As the uncertainty over the weather extends beyond Friday’s running, downforce choices may change on Saturday. “The pace in dry conditions might not necessarily be that important for the rest of the weekend,” said Piastri.

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“So we’ll see. I think it’s going to be tough for all the teams trying to stay on top of the weather. Trying to stay on top of British weather is hard in normal times, let alone on a race weekend.”

Ferrari and Mercedes were closely matched over one lap, although they were a few tenths off the potential pace of McLaren and Red Bull.

“We struggled a bit more this afternoon than this morning,” reported Russell. “It got a little bit windier and I don’t think we quite nailed the tires. But I think pretty similar competitiveness as we’ve seen in the last few races.”

Undoubtedly, there will be plenty of competitive fluctuations throughout the weekend, but the foundation appears to be set for another Verstappen vs. McLaren showdown.

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