Lando Norris said a radical adjustment to his car mid-race allowed him to improve his pace and chase after the race leader.

The McLaren driver dropped back from leader Max Verstappen as the pair ran on medium rubber at the start of the race but slashed his rivals’ advantage to just seven-tenths of a second by the end of the race after both switched to the hard tyres.

Norris’ pace improved around 20 laps into his second stint shortly after he asked his team why he was coming under pressure from Charles Leclerc behind. “I was slow on the medium relative to Max,” he explained. “And I wasn’t comfortable as soon as I came out on the hard tyre.

“So I quite quickly asked, like, ‘where am I struggling?’ And they’re like, ‘oh, they’re just pushing more than you’. But I was asking because I just felt slow and I didn’t feel like I could push a lot more.

“As soon as I started to push I felt like I’d oversteer, I’d understeer, lock tyres. It was just the tyres were not in a good window. And I think it’s clear, you know, with Max saying a similar thing, that as soon as they’re not in the right window, just you can’t push. You don’t have the confidence with the car.

“So I had to just manage things as best I could. When I say I’m pushing, it doesn’t mean you’re 110%. Pushing can still be 90%. You’re just pushing to the limit of what you want to do.”

However Norris was able to find a configuration which improved his handling balance. “I basically changed all my switches on the steering wheel to try and help the rear tyres and try to kill the fronts, because I just had too much front at that point,” he said.

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“Maybe five, 10 laps later, things started to come back to me. So making all these changes and changing the differential and the brake balance and all of those things really allowed me to bring the tyres back into a good window. As soon as I got there, I felt confident enough to push and as soon as I felt like I could push, it kind of spiralled in the right direction.”

Norris said it was a “coincidence” that this happened as he was coming under pressure from Leclerc. The Ferrari driver then made a mistake at Variante Alta and dropped back.

“When Charles was behind me, I didn’t have a lot more than what I had,” said Norris. “And if I did, I probably would have made a mistake and went off track. So it was tricky.

“But as soon as Charles made the mistake, it gave me a bit of breathing room. I was like, ‘okay, maybe now I can try to push it a little bit more’ and it started to come back to me.

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“It’s tough. It’s so tricky on this kind of circuit, you have a couple laps where you don’t oversteer and things feel better but then you oversteer and then things feel worse, so you can feel very quickly up and down. It’s just so sensitive with the tyres and that kind of stuff. I think we have a good understanding of it, it’s just today we probably didn’t do the best job especially in the first half of the race.”

Leclerc went off while chasing Norris

Cool and potentially wet weather conditions were originally forecast for Sunday, but the day turned out dry and warm. The higher track temperatures did not suit the McLaren, said Norris, who felt his car would have been better balanced had they significantly reduced the front wing angle.

“I would probably take out like four holes of front wing and do the same again,” he said after the race. “Once the tyres are where they are, you can’t actually do a lot.

“We were expecting it to be a little bit colder today than what it was so we set up the car more for colder conditions rather than hot. And I think I paid the price in general.

“So that’s why I had to do so much of an introduction to the tyres and bring them up so gently and look after them because if I didn’t, I just would have fallen off a cliff like the others did. So my only chance was to drive my race and that meant being under pressure from Charles for more laps than I would have liked.

“But as soon as I cleared the traffic and got back into my own rhythm, then I felt good with the car, the tyres came back to me and I could push and I was happy. So from then on, the pace was amazing.”

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The car’s improved performance at the end of the race is “a good sign,” said Norris. “It’s always a good thing to have is good race pace.

“But clearly when it’s hotter and there’s more degradation to the rear tyres, we start to struggle a lot more. This is something we know and maybe we could have prepared for a little bit more but nevertheless, I’m happy with the outcome.”

When he closed on Verstappen at the end of the race, Norris had to adjust his driving style again in the turbulent air from the Red Bull. He came within seven-thousandths of a second of getting DRS on the penultimate lap and eventually did on the final tour, but was unable to make an attempt to pass the Red Bull.

“I was just praying for one more lap,” said Norris. “I was just praying for someone to say ‘one more lap’. I don’t know why.

“I just did everything I could. I was pushing like hell to get there and catch up and have a chance.

“But as soon as you get within two seconds, you start to lose downforce and grip. The tyres start to overheat again. I kind of struggled for a couple laps, but once I understood how I had to drive again, like the last lap I managed to get there.

“Seven tenths, like one more lap, at least he would have had to defend into turn one and maybe something could have come from that. But one lap too late. It’s a shame, but it is what it is, and we just struggled too much in the beginning of the race.”

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