Japan’s Suzuka Circuit has witnessed some F1‘s most memorable races and Lando Norris, McLaren‘s third-placed qualifier, envisions another one taking place. The only scenario that presents Norris an opportunity to secure a victory would be dependent on an unfortunate event; should Max Verstappen and Oscar Piastri, both occupying the first and second spots on the starting grid, collide in a fashion reminiscent of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost‘s infamous clash.
Norris clocked a time that was only 0.035 seconds slower than his McLaren teammate, Piastri. However, his time was a considerable 0.616 seconds off the pace set by Verstappen’s Red Bull, emphasizing the mammoth task at hand for Norris to seize the top step of the podium given that narrow margins often decide the fate of an F1 race.
Verstappen does not seem likely to relinquish control over the Japanese Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver comfortably claimed victories in 12 out of the 15 races in this season. Based on his Friday practice performance, Verstappen looks set to maintain a formidable advantage over his counterparts, including Norris, in the upcoming Sunday race.
Responding to the query of McLaren‘s combined strategy against Red Bull, Norris humorously alluded to the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix. “‘We’re going to try [to beat Verstappen] but if he’s leading by Turn 2, there is not a lot we can do,’ Norris said. ‘I don’t know… Oscar, if you want to emulate Senna on Prost into Turn 1, you can do that! It would be lovely for me!'”
The 1990 Japanese Grand Prix went down in the books as a notable event. Here, Senna, dissatisfied with his pole position on the dirtier side of the starting grid, intentionally crashed into Prost, driving for Ferrari, which resulted in both drivers retiring from the race and the championship was decided.
Despite the odds stacked against McLaren, Norris remains hopeful of their performance. “‘I think our race pace is decent, it’s definitely not going to be as good as the Red Bull, but we’ll do our best.'” Norris was able to sneak past Verstappen in the opening lap at the British Grand Prix and managed to hold off his Red Bull competitor for the first five circuits. Piastri, on the other hand, piled pressure on Verstappen vying for the second spot.
Although Piastri doesn’t deny the possibility of a similar feat occurring at Suzuka, “We tried our best at Silverstone, we’ll try and do the same thing,” he remains cautious pointing out the tough challenge that lies ahead due to probable two-stop strategies.
“It’ll be a difficult race, very different to Silverstone in that regard, it could be a lot more open I think,” says Piastri. He cites the high tyre degradation and presumably erratic pit-stop strategies as factors which could elevate the margin for error and test the drivers’ skills to manage the wear and tear on their rubber. He points out that the race would not essentially be about driving as fast as possible, but rather how differently the race pans out with the variable strategies in play.