Mistake in the last sector costs starting place

Two teammates could not have been further apart in Q3: While Lando Norris secured pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix with the best qualifying time, Oscar Piastri was unable to set a time at all. In both attempts to set a fast lap, the young Australian made a mistake in the last sector. This meant he lost a better starting position for the Formula 1 race on Sunday.

Oscar Piastri: Pole position was impossible

After the mixed training results, Piastri had not set his expectations too high: “It was certainly not to be expected that I would get pole position. It would have been P7 or P8 at best. Accordingly, I do not feel that I made a mistake that cost me a great result.”

That the pole position with the McLaren was definitely achievable, his team-mate Norris showed with a flawless performance. But Piastri himself cannot explain why things went so much worse on his side in qualifying. “I just wasn’t up to my pace,” was his honest assessment of his weekend so far.

“Other teams started a little faster. Red Bull was strong from the start. They didn’t struggle to find the pace like they did on previous weekends,” said Piastri. Meanwhile, the McLaren driver didn’t get up to operating temperature quickly enough and couldn’t find his rhythm. He was also lagging significantly behind his teammate all weekend in Barcelona. Piastri’s results in practice (P6 in FP1, P7 in FP2 and P10 in FP3) make the qualifying result unsurprising.

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In the qualifying duel, the score at McLaren is now 7:3 for Norris. Piastri only has the qualifying sessions in Saudi Arabia, Imola and Monaco to his credit. On the weekends when Norris was faster than Piastri, however, Piastri often qualified only one or two, maximum three positions behind Norris. This means that Spain will be the first weekend in the 2024 Formula 1 season in which Piastri will suffer a serious defeat.

Piastri is at a loss: where does the lack of trust come from?

Piastri indicated that the car didn’t feel as natural from the start this weekend as it had in the last four or five races. This meant that he hadn’t been able to exploit its full potential. However, the unnatural feeling of the car is not related to the upgrades – quite the opposite: “Since the upgrades were made to the car, it was really good to drive in Miami and then in Imola. In Imola in particular, I felt very comfortable from the first lap. The car hasn’t changed since then. But this weekend, whatever the reason, it’s much more difficult to drive.”

Likewise, Piastri was unable to identify a specific section of the track that caused him problems: “It was a bit random, which for me is an indicator that I just didn’t have much confidence in the car. In one session it was one corner, in the next another. The last sector was a bit difficult, but never for the same reason.” The fact that the third sector was ultimately his downfall is also evident in a more detailed look at Piastri’s Q3 attempts.

Q3 drama: Mistakes cost Piastri good lap time

On his first run on soft tyres, a small mistake at Turn 10 saw him go wide and his lap time of 1:12:542 was deleted for exceeding track limits. At that point, Verstappen’s reference time was 1:11:673 and Norris was driving a 1:11:796, which reveals the not insignificant difference in pace. Piastri’s lap time would theoretically have been enough for 7th place after all ten had completed their first Q3 attempt.

With just under two minutes left on the clock, the Australian set off for his second attempt at a flying lap. During this attempt, he made an even bigger mistake in turn 12. Piastri briefly slid into the gravel and was forced to abort his lap. Before that, his sector times for this lap looked pretty good. He was at least on a par with Sergio Perez was even slightly faster at times, which would probably have put him in the top 8.

As far as the slip-up is concerned, Piastri is still at a loss. He didn’t even have a clear explanation for this: “My lap wasn’t particularly good at the time, so I knew I didn’t really have anything to lose. The car just got massive understeer. I don’t know if I was trying to carry a bit too much speed or if it was a gust of wind or whatever. But yeah, it just wasn’t a predictable day in terms of the car’s behavior.”

McLaren pace gives us courage: we have to score points!

Although they hadn’t made any major changes to the MCL38’s setup overnight, the feeling in the car was better on Friday than on Saturday. There is therefore no real explanation for the difficulties, says Piastri. But it is clear that the team must immediately work through the botched day: “We have to look at things now and try to make up a few points tomorrow.”

Oscar Piastri in the garage before qualifying for the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix
After qualifying disappointment, Oscar Piastri puts his hopes in the McLaren racing trim, Photo: LAT Images

The good long-run pace he was able to set in the second practice session on Friday gives the 2021 Formula 2 champion confidence for the race. Nevertheless, he is aware that it will be a tough race on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya from position 9 (Perez is moved back three places due to a grid penalty). The track is known less for its overtaking ability than for strategy battles. The fact that the four top teams Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes are currently closer than they have been for a long time makes overtaking even more difficult.

McLaren team boss Andrea Stella is nevertheless encouraging: “We know that the pace is there and tomorrow the situation will be completely different. We will reposition ourselves and see what we need to improve. We are looking forward to finishing the race in a better position than we started it and to scoring important points for the team.”

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