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Max Verstappen holds off fuming Lando Norris in Spanish GP but McLaren on up
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Max Verstappen holds off fuming Lando Norris in Spanish GP but McLaren on up

Lando Norris may have cause to be self‑critical in the wake of a gripping Spanish Grand Prix, where he felt he had let Max Verstappen through the door for a win. Yet the British driver did his level best to rectify it and put in a blistering run to harry the Dutchman to the flag and, while it will be cold comfort, his form and that of his McLaren team is such that ­Verstappen knows now he has a fight on his hands.

Verstappen took the flag in Barcelona only 2.2 seconds clear of Norris, after the 24-year-old drove his heart out to try to make up the deficit to his Red Bull rival twice in the space of the 66-lap race. It was a bravura display of pace and passing that rescued what would otherwise have probably been a pedestrian affair, with Verstappen once more out in front for the vast majority of the race.

Norris is open about how critical he is of himself, that he takes a glass-half-empty perspective, and one can only imagine the furious berating he gave himself from inside the helmet as his advantage from pole position slipped away in the opening seconds.

His start was not the best and through turn one he was passed by Verstappen as George Russell swept past them both to claim the lead. It was the decisive moment, as Norris acknowledged.

“I should have won but I fucked up the start,” he said, in what was perhaps a considered and polite ­version of the assessment he may subject himself to later. He was right, however, and a measure of the race was the reaction to how it then panned out.

From Red Bull and Verstappen there was a palpable sense of relief, that this was one they had to fight for and Verstappen, who took the lead from Russell on lap two, also acknowledged they had not had the quickest car on the day.

At McLaren there was disappoint­ment it had got away. They are expectant now of more, a team on the up with the tools to deliver, a sea change for them over two short years. Andrea Stella, the team principal, admitted it had been a matter of tiny details between two cars he believed had been very much matched on pace.

This will be of greatest import from a long-term perspective that should ultimately buoy the team and Norris. Verstappen has said he believes the team’s early season dominance has gone and given that Barcelona is considered a fundamental and demonstrative test of how well a car’s aerodynamics are working, if Red Bull still have an edge it is far, far less pronounced that when the season opened.

The details were indeed crucial but all followed on from that start, after which Norris then lost time behind Russell in the first stint before the opening stops of a two‑stopper race. Verstappen had made hay to open a lead in that period, yet it also brought the race alive.

Norris had a job to do and set about it with no ­little determination. Going long at the stops to set up a tyre offset, he had to make passes to come back and so they fell, as if he had a point to prove.

Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton and then Russell were all passed over eight laps. Norris vied with Russell in some brilliant wheel-to-wheel racing, changing places three times across the lap before the McLaren driver finally emerged on top at turn six.

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Norris, who gained his first win at Miami this season, is in no mood to settle for podiums and insisted the team tailor their ­strategy to going for a win. They duly sent him into the pits and, those tiny details again in play, they lost just under a second in a slow stop. Norris had it all to do again, hunting down ­Verstappen who had a nine-second lead with 19 laps remaining.

An absolute charge to the finish ensued, Norris pounding in quick laps, closing the gap to five seconds when Verstappen was in no uncertain terms given the hurry-up by his team. He responded and had enough to hold the place to the flag. However, second place bumped Norris up to second in the drivers’ championship, 69 points behind Verstappen with 14 meetings still to come, a gap the British driver believes he can bridge.

George Russell and Max Verstappen race during the F1 Grand Prix of Spain.View image in fullscreen

It had been tiny margins and decisive moments that Norris and his team should be able to turn their way in future. McLaren are very close if not on a par now with Red Bull. Some solace for Norris in the long dark night of the soul on a Sunday in Catalunya.

Mercedes’ improved form con­tinued with Hamilton and Russell claiming third and fourth, with the team too moving closer to Red Bull, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fifth. Sainz was sixth for Ferrari, Oscar Piastri seventh for McLaren, Sergio PĂ©rez eighth for Red Bull and Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon ninth and 10th for Alpine.

Source: theguardian.com