Lando Norris had put in what he called a “very, very good lap” in qualifying to seal P5 on the grid and split the two Mercedes cars. But the youngster had indicated he would struggle to stay there in the race and so it proved, as he lost out to both George Russell and Fernando Alonso to come home to a still solid seventh.
In France, McLaren were running a raft of new upgrades, which helped Norris to extract the absolute maximum from his MCL36 on Saturday over one lap. But he wasn’t able to replicate that feeling during the race, although he was still pleased with the progress the team had made.
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“I think there’s still a lot of positives – it’s helped the car, it’s moved it in the right direction,” he said.
“Some of those improvements in balance that I seemed to have for yesterday, I lost today and went away from me, and I just didn’t have the same confidence in the car. Good work by the team; we’d have been a lot slower if we didn’t have [the upgrades].”
Norris was overtaken by a fast-moving Alonso at the start, and never had the pace to take the fight to the Spaniard across the following 53 laps. Combined with Esteban Ocon coming home in P8 ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, the result meant Alpine forged ahead of McLaren in the constructors’ championship to the tune of four points.
“I was trying to keep up with Fernando for the whole race, and pushing like hell the whole time,” Norris admitted. “I was trying to save the tires and push and save and push, whereas I felt like Fernando was chilling the whole race.”
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Alpine’s superior race pace is definitely a concern heading into the second half of the season, and something Norris’s team mate also witnessed first-hand.
“Still certainly tricky out there. [I was] playing defense when I want to be on the attack,” said Ricciardo, who came home ninth. “I tried to hold on to Esteban Ocon for as long as I could, but in the end the Alpines were a bit too quick today. Managed to hold on to the Astons at the end but obviously want to be catching cars not falling back into the hands of the others.”
Daniel Ricciardo: P9 in French GP not ‘enough points to make me feel satisfied’
For Ricciardo, it was the first time he’s managed back-to-back points finishes this season – but he was also embroiled in a race of tire management and still seeking answers as to why he couldn’t extract the performance he wanted from both cars and tires.
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“I think once we got through like halfway through the stint the others could just keep that pace and I would simply just fall off, just unable to use anymore of… the tire or the grip. Yes, I don’t feel like I am aggressive on the tire or anything, just simply can’t hold what the others can.”
He was upbeat post-race despite his struggles with tire management but he won’t have long to try and find any answers, with just a week to trawl through the data before racing resumes in Hungary.