Is Norris trying too hard? Will unflappable Piastri cause McLaren power shift?

Described as the “best” driver line-up on the F1 grid by Max Verstappen, a fascinating dynamic is unfolding at McLaren between Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.
Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren and Osca
Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren and Osca

Piastri produced his latest stellar performance across the Qatar Grand Prix weekend to claim both a maiden pole position and victory in the sprint race, which he followed up with a strong second behind Verstappen’s dominant Red Bull on Sunday. 

The Australian got the better of teammate Norris in a private McLaren battle that left the latter angry and frustrated, to further underline his growing reputation as an F1 star. 

Piastri’s personal victory over Norris teased the prospect of a wider power struggle within McLaren that will surely only intensify as the team continues their remarkable ascension.

Sprint race winner Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 18, Qatar Grand Prix, Doha, Qatar, Sprint
Sprint race winner Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren. Formula 1 World…

Norris cannot hide frustration 

Saturday’s sprint race marked the second time that Norris has been beaten to a first F1 victory by an Australian teammate, having finished second to Daniel Ricciardo at Monza back in 2021.

Granted, this latest occasion was *only* a sprint triumph and not the prestige of a full grand prix win, but the 23-year-old Briton couldn’t hide his frustration at what he rued as a clear missed opportunity in Qatar. 

"If I want to be honest with myself, I should have fought for two pole positions this weekend, and potentially two victories,” Norris admitted.

“I know it's a big thing to say, but I think if things went well, if I just did a better job and didn't make the mistakes I did over the last two days, which is why I've been so frustrated, because I knew what was on the cards, what we were able to potentially achieve. And that was victories, both yesterday and today. 

“So I feel like it was a weekend of missed opportunities for myself to take the fight to Max and at least give ourselves that opportunity.” 

Is Norris trying too hard? Will unflappable Piastri cause McLaren power shift?

Norris berating himself was a theme across the weekend. 

After a track limits penalty in Friday’s qualifying cost him a front-row start for Sunday’s grand prix, Norris squandered the chance to beat Piastri to pole for the sprint with a mistake at the final corner on his last SQ3 lap. In the sprint itself, Norris finished a place lower than he started, before launching a highly self-critical assessment of his performance.

Norris was arguably too hard on himself. He has performed at an incredibly high level this season, has five podium finishes and sits seventh in the drivers’ championship, ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell

But he appears to be getting increasingly irritated about the headline-grabbing performances of his super fast teammate and is making uncharacteristic mistakes along the way. A sign that he is perhaps trying too hard?

The next race in Austin will mark Norris’ 100th grand prix. Only Nico Rosberg has waited as long for a race victory and gone on to win a world championship. 

Is this burden - combined with the demons of his heartbreaking near-miss in Sochi 2021 - starting to weigh heavier on Norris? 

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren in the post race FIA Press Conference. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 18, Qatar Grand Prix,
Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren in the post race FIA Press Conference. Formula…

Is Piastri F1’s best rookie since Hamilton? 

Meanwhile, Piastri’s stock only continues to rise. He achieved more career milestones in Qatar and cemented his position inside the top-10 of the championship in what is turning out to be a highly-impressive rookie campaign. 

Not since 2007 and Lewis Hamilton’s breakthrough season has F1 witnessed a rookie driver claim a race win. The 22-year-old has made his transition to motorsport’s premier class look easy, racking up two podiums in just 17 grand prix. 

In addition to his on-track performances, Piastri’s cool, calm and collected persona will only serve him well in the future. He appears less hot-headed than his teammate who often wears his heart on his sleeve. This may be a useful tool Piastri can use to his advantage to get under Norris’ skin.

By no means is Piastri the finished article yet (nor would anyone expect him to be). Some question marks remain over the consistency of his pace and tyre management over the course of a grand prix distance. But these are areas Piastri is aware he needs to work on. 

Is Norris trying too hard? Will unflappable Piastri cause McLaren power shift?

"Still some improvements to make,” he said. “I think this race was very different to Japan, obviously with three stops, I think we were basically pushing flat-out for the whole race. But, I think, there is still some work to do.”

He added: “It was just a different kind of tyre deg. I think it was much more front limited this weekend. I think the front left and trying to protect that was by far the biggest thing. 

“So yeah, just a different learning experience. But it's still good to have it in the bank.”

McLaren have played a masterstroke by tying Piastri down to a new long-term contract, with the likes of Alpine and Red Bull surely looking on with an element of regret at Piastri’s stunning trajectory, having missed out on his signature. 

What is most exciting about Piastri is the level he is already at, and the ceiling of potential he still has to reach. He will only get better, and as he does, could he wrestle the ‘golden boy’ status away from Norris at McLaren?

It will be an interesting story to keep an eye on as the intra-team Piastri-Norris battle develops over the coming years.

Oscar Piastri (AUS), McLaren Lando Norris (GBR), McLaren F1 Team Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull Racing Formula 1 World
Oscar Piastri (AUS), McLaren Lando Norris (GBR), McLaren F1 Team Max…

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