“First victory – before mine…” said Oscar Piastri’s Lando Norris at the very beginning of the interview after the sprint in Qatar, as he watched his McLaren teammate celebrate his first Formula 1 race win.
The potential significance of Piastri and not Norris giving McLaren another victory, if only in the sprint for now, was not lost on the man who had for so long seemed McLaren’s great hope for the future, and it certainly influenced Norris’s strong self-criticism on Saturday night.
Are we starting to see a change in McLaren’s power balance? Or is Norris too hard on himself?
Here are our authors’ thoughts:
IT LOOKS LIKE NORRIS IS TRYING TOO HARD
Norris will certainly be feeling the heat having a suitably fast team-mate in the other car, and the self-flagellation he showed in Qatar suggests he may have overdone it a bit under the pressure as he needs to push that much harder to stay further.
The fact that Piastri is already so quick and composed, and has so much room for improvement, will put serious pressure on Norris to find another equipment from somewhere after a few seasons of playing quite comfortably against Daniel Ricciardo.
THE STAKES WILL ONLY GET HIGHER
Victory in the sprint race is yet another success for McLaren in the last four months, and all indications are that the team is well on its way to fighting for more than just Saturday’s victory in the future. This increases the intensity of combat between team members.
No matter how good the relationship between any pair of team members is, competition is always intense, and the higher the stakes for the outcome, the more intense it is. There’s potentially a lot more here than just actual team leadership.
That’s not to say that there’s no indication that an intra-team fight will break out soon – and it may never happen – but it does have a reinforcing effect as both jockey for position.
The results will determine who wins, as always, but the Norris vs. Piastri battle will be a fascinating subplot for the team as it collects the final few points needed to permanently return to the top of the F1 standings.
PIASTRI MUST DO THIS CONSISTENTLY
This borders on slander!
Yes, Piastri won the first McLaren race in ages and ahead of Norris. However, it was a sprint race and at an unfortunate moment, a rare mistake by Norris gave the opportunity.
If you were good enough to get into F1, you should be able to have isolated instances of performances that instantly beat your teammate. This is the level you stay at. Especially a driver of Piastri’s caliber.
Doing this consistently means the big ones are making the cut, and Norris has been on par with Piastri this year, whether he’s a rookie or not.
We can’t use Piastri’s untapped (because he hasn’t had time) potential as a bat to beat Norris when he has consistently performed brilliantly.
Ricciardo won at Monza in 2021, but where is he now compared to Norris? Bits.
This shows that Norris cannot afford to keep making mistakes that give other top drivers a chance to beat him. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a regular thing, but considering Piastri seems to be so much better than his previous teammates, he could gain some momentum against Norris with more mistakes.
Fortunately, he didn’t seem prone to this. He’s still an outstanding and consistent talent that Piastri will have to do a lot more than just win one sprint race to match.
A BIG QUESTION MARK REMAINS
The Qatar GP weekend hasn’t changed anything or told us anything new about Piastri so far.
Winning the sprint race may not even break into the top ten best results of Piastri’s rookie year. This says a lot about the quality of Piastri’s start in F1.
In the sprint he had a clear tire advantage over George Russell, started on the clear side of the grid and had space (albeit a deserved place) to protect himself from the soft tire competitors at the start, unlike Norris.
He did this well and kept Max Verstappen at bay when he needed to for the final four laps, but there were also similar short periods of ease going forward at Silverstone and Suzuka.
We already knew Piastri was capable of this. Time will tell if he can demonstrate this relentless pace over the appropriate race distance.
He was found to be somewhat deficient at Suzuka on Sunday, which is not unexpected for an F1 rookie, but he is expected to address it this time next year.
But you can bet he’ll do just that, considering how quickly he learned the rest of the key skills. Then Norris will really have a problem.
THIS IS PERFECT FOR MCLARES – FOR NOW
Although McLaren is an emerging team, it is an ideal driver line-up. Young, hungry drivers who have their best years ahead of them.
The level of motivation is at its peak. And once Piastri proves he’s worth all the effort he put in last year, he and Norris can continue to push each other to new heights. There’s nowhere for either of them to hide, but that’s great because McLaren will know the car is being maximized every weekend.
This only becomes a problem when McLaren gets into a title fight. When the stakes are higher, there will naturally be more tension between two drivers who see themselves as future world champions. And if there are other teams in the fight, there’s the added disadvantage of having your top two teammates taking points away from each other.
At this point, McLaren would probably consider it a nice problem to have.
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