Five key talking points from the F1 paddock after the Spanish GP

Summary of the key topics from inside the Barcelona paddock from F1 Spanish Grand Prix

The podium (L to R): Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren, second; Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing, race winner; Lewis Hamilton
The podium (L to R): Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren, second; Max Verstappen …

Max Verstappen made it back-to-back wins by holding off Lando Norris in Barcelona, but the Spanish Grand Prix provided some promising signs that this season might not be a one-man show. F1 editor Lewis Larkam rounds up his takeaways from being on the ground at the 10th round of the 2024 season…

Can self-critical Lando Norris mount title challenge?

Norris may have been unable to convert his second-ever pole position into victory in Spain, and suffered his second straight defeat to Verstappen, but the McLaren driver has been a constant thorn in the Dutchman’s side of late.

Since beating Verstappen to claim his maiden grand prix win in Miami, Norris has finished second to the Red Bull driver on three occasions in the past four races. The 24-year-old Briton’s consistency has seen him leapfrog Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc into second place in the world championship, 69 points behind Verstappen.

With 14 races still to run, can Norris challenge Verstappen for the F1 world title this year?

“I think so,” Norris replied when asked that very question, before conceding: “I should have done better today. We should have got some points back on Max. Potentially there was a chance to beat him in Canada. Two races that I finished second and he’s won.

Lando Norris was frustrated with himself after failing to win
Lando Norris was frustrated with himself after failing to win

“But Max needs to stop winning. Even though I’ve moved into second in the championship, that doesn’t matter, I couldn’t care if I was second or 10th. It’s more about the gap to what Max is, and he’s still extending it.

“I can’t afford to let him run away with it. If I just made some better decisions in Canada, and if I had made a better start today, we would have won two races.

"I know there’s always been a lot of shoulda, woulda, coulda’s but we have what it takes; it’s just about putting it all together.”

Does McLaren now have the fastest car?

Norris fell less than a second shy of victory at Imola, and trailed Verstappen by just two seconds in Spain as he mounted another late charge.

Taking pole on merit in Barcelona further underlined the strength of McLaren’s MCL38, which Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz reckons is now the best package in F1.

“I think honestly, the most consistent car right now is a McLaren,” Sainz said.

“I think Red Bull are struggling in certain tracks. Same as us. McLaren is quick everywhere. They're quick in low-speed. They're flat in turn three and nine. They were fastest in turn five.

“So I just don't see McLaren having any weakness right now. For me, Red Bull is still up there. But McLaren is quick everywhere, which is quite impressive.”

It is a view shared by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who believes McLaren and Red Bull are the two teams currently setting the benchmark in F1.

“The McLaren looked very quick. How quick, I don’t know? I think that Max always has a little bit in the pocket and can make the difference,” he said.

“Definitely these two at the moment, there is not a lot between them but these two, but they are definitely setting the benchmark.”

Tension brewing at Ferrari?

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz make contact at Turn 1
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz make contact at Turn 1

Things got a bit heated between the Ferrari drivers as they came to blows in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.

The pair made contact at Turn 1 when Carlos Sainz swooped around the outside of Charles Leclerc, whose front wing ended up clipping the Spaniard’s rear right wheel, forcing him to take to the escape road.

Leclerc ultimately finished ahead of Sainz in fourth but the duo pointed the finger at each other after the race and were seen having a tense discussion in parc ferme.

Leclerc suggested Sainz “wanted to impress at his home race” with his F1 future uncertain as he continues to search for a drive after losing his seat to Lewis Hamilton. Sainz retorted: “it’s too many times that after the race he [Leclerc] complains about something.”

But Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur was quick to downplay talk of developing tension between Leclerc and Sainz as he pointed to emotions always being high in the immediate aftermath of a race.

“Let us discuss and not to draw a conclusion after the first comment of the driver when he jumped out of the car,” he said.

Where does Sergio Perez go from here?

Sergio Perez in parc ferme after another disappointing race
Sergio Perez in parc ferme after another disappointing race

Sergio Perez arrived in Barcelona acknowledging he needed a strong performance to correct his recent form slide, but he did not deliver one.

It was another underwhelming display from the Mexican on a weekend his teammate claimed yet another win - his seventh from 10 races. By contrast, Perez is yet to stand on the top step of the podium this season, and has only reached the rostrum on four occasions.

While Perez did make Q3 for the first time in four appearances, he could only set the eighth-fastest time and was significantly slower than Verstappen, who took second. That was before a three-place grid drop pushed him back to 11th on the grid.

Red Bull opted for a three-stop strategy for Perez, who passed Pierre Gasly’s Alpine late on to salvage eighth, but he still finished almost a minute behind Verstappen.

Red Bull may have extended their advantage in both world championships despite Perez's result, as team principal Christian Horner was quick to point out, though he did admit that Verstappen is making the difference at the minute.

“We need Checo in the mix. He knows that and the team knows that,” Horner said. “Checo in the first four to five races this year was fantastic. We just need to get him back into that headspace.

“I think that he’s had a couple of difficult races, and things haven’t gone his way. He’s a confidence driven driver I think. He’s back in the points here, drove a decent race, so hopefully he’ll take some confidence out of that for the coming races.”

Alpine improve as Flavio Briatore returns

The controversial Flavio Briatore has returned to team Enstone
The controversial Flavio Briatore has returned to team Enstone

The return of controversial figure Flavio Briatore to F1 with Alpine was one of the biggest storylines of the weekend in Barcelona.

74-year-old Briatore was handed a lifetime ban from F1 for his role in overseeing the so-called ‘Crashgate’ scandal at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, but this was later overturned by the FIA on appeal.

The appointment placed the spotlight on Alpine and saw team principal Bruno Famin come under scrutiny for his unwavering defence of Briatore’s comeback.

On-track, it was a far more encouraging weekend for the struggling French manufacturer following a woeful start to the season.

Gasly converted an impressive qualifying lap into ninth place, ahead of teammate Esteban Ocon who completed a double-points finish to lift Alpine up to seventh in the constructors’ standings.

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