Lando Norris admits Spa shunt 'plays over in my head'


Lando Norris has been left to dwell on what could have been a victory at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, as he explains his Eau Rouge accident and concedes he's been unable to get it off his mind

Norris lead

Norris's huge Eau Rouge shunt cost him that chance of a win – and he knows it


Somewhat overlooked in all the chaos that unfolded at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend was a lost opportunity of epic proportions for Lando Norris.

George Russell was rightly lauded for his superb effort in qualifying second, an achievement that subsequently earned the Williams driver a spectacular reward in the form of nine points and a spot on the podium.

However, there was a chance that his close pal Norris could have done even better and secured pole position – one that would subsequently have converted into his first Grand Prix victory and 12.5 crucial points in his fight for third place in the World Championship.

Instead the McLaren driver suffered the biggest setback of what has been a brilliant season thus far, and from which he will have to try to bounce back at Zandvoort this weekend.

Norris was a modest eighth and ninth in the dry sessions at Spa on Friday, but in a wet FP3 on Saturday he took an encouraging fourth, behind only Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton.

Norris practice

The young McLaren driver was in fine form all weekend right up to his accident


Come the soaking afternoon qualifying session, he was on brilliant form, setting the fastest times in both Q1 and Q2. His confidence boosted, he was eager to keep that up when it mattered in Q3 – only to lose it and thud hard into the barrier at the top of Eau Rouge on his first lap.

With no time set that automatically consigned him to 10th on the grid, and even worse he was then ferried off to hospital for checks on a potentially injured elbow, while following Russell’s progress on his phone.

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Fortunately he got a clean bill of health, and he was soon back at the track, albeit feeling a bit second hand.

“I’ve been better,” he admitted. “But I’m good. I think just a bit bruised, obviously, it was quite a big impact and I think my body’s just been thrown around a little bit. But no, I’m good. I’m ready to race for tomorrow.

“And yeah, I want to get back on track already. Because it didn’t end the way I wanted it to.”

He gave a detailed account of what had gone wrong.

“Well, everything was going extremely well. Since the first lap in Q1 things were going perfectly and the car was feeling hooked up, I felt confident with the car. And I guess it was tricky going out in Q3 because even on the out lap I was saying how wet it was and saying it should be stopped or something, because I was aquaplaning quite a bit.

“So it was just a difficult situation to be in, how much do you want to push, how much do you not? I think it’s combination of pushing a bit too much for the weather at that point, and aquaplaning a little bit in the middle of Eau Rouge, which obviously doesn’t end too well.”

Lando Norris, 2021 Belgian GP Qualifying

Eau Rouge aquaplane sent Norris into the barriers

Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

He also referenced a bump at Eau Rouge that Lewis Hamilton had noticed on Friday.

“There’s like a different tarmac strip at the bottom. And it definitely makes it a lot trickier, especially in those conditions, when it’s that wet. I think it was one of the first laps where it basically wasn’t flat out. And it wasn’t like I tried to do it flat out on my first attempt, I still lifted and whatever.

“You get these tram lines from where people go. And as soon as you go at the speed I was going, a little bit offline, you just hit all the standing water, and with the wet tyres and how much water was coming down, these bumps as well in the bottom of Raidillon going through Eau Rouge, it was too much for what I had to do.

“Things were going very well, the car was on fire” Lando Norris

“I think at the end of the day I guess my mistake, and my bad. But I didn’t feel like I was taking too many risks at the same time. I think it was just the conditions were so tough.

“Of course, I feel bad because things were going very well, the car was on fire, and Q1 and Q2 were extremely good. And I think I could have quite easily fought for pole position. But I’ve now given the team a lot of work to do, and probably a very late night. But not a lot I can do now.”

Inevitably his focus was already on the race, and making up for lost ground. At that stage he had officially moved up to ninth on the grid due to a penalty for Valtteri Bottas, but it was not yet clear what other penalties would result from the rebuild of the McLaren – although it was already evident that the gearbox was history, and that he would go back at least five places.

“The boys have got a big job to do, putting everything to back to how it should be tomorrow. And I don’t think we know just yet the extent of everything, and where I’m going to be starting on the grid tomorrow.

“At Spa anything can happen. We obviously had good pace, the car was really nice to drive today. It’s cool, it’s fun conditions to drive in, although maybe not quite at the end. The whole of Q1 and Q2 was challenging, but it’s what we love as drivers, and hopefully it’s not too bad tomorrow and I can try come back through.”

The McLaren crew did an incredible job saving the chassis, as a switch to the spare would automatically lead to a pit lane start. But along with the gearbox almost everything else had to be changed – even the seat and steering wheel. He also went back to an older power unit.

The bottom line was a five-place gearbox penalty applied to his original position, so he went back to 15th on the grid. He gained a place from Sergio Perez’s pre-race crash, and after a long afternoon he was still officially 14th in the final results.

As Russell celebrated on the podium Norris was left contemplating what might have been had he made it safely through that first lap in Q3.

“Yeah, of course,” he said when I asked about the frustration of knowing how expensive the crash was in hindsight. “But I guess it’s only half points as well. And now a lot of the people I’m racing against as a driver didn’t score any points.

Norris grid

McLaren mechanics performed a minor miracle to get the MCL35M repaired and back on the grid


“And even for us as a team, we still outscored Ferrari, which is important. But we’re here to race, we want to race. I guess I’m disappointed I didn’t get to try make up for yesterday’s problem.”

On a positive note there were no ill-effects from the shunt: “I woke up not feeling too great. But after doing a bit more like massages and stuff on it, it was good. And I didn’t really notice it when I was driving.”

He’d had plenty of time to think about the accident.

“It plays over in my head, because I was so annoyed” Norris

“It plays over in my head a bit, because I was so annoyed,” he admitted. “Not just that I’d crashed, but just that I’d given up on the opportunity to maybe score a pole position, and I feel quite convinced and confident that I could have at least been in the top two, and possibly ahead of Max.

“So that would have been a lovely result today, although I don’t feel like a result today is really a result deserving of points. Still, being in that position would have been nice.”

Norris was far from the only driver to have a shunt over the weekend, with Verstappen and Charles Leclerc both hitting the barriers on Friday. Nevertheless it was obviously a knock to the confidence, although not as significant as you might think.

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“Yeah, I would say if I had this crash in year one or year two, it would have affected me a lot more than it has now,” he explained. “I still felt really bad for the whole team, and really disappointed in myself. It was my fault, I was the one driving the car, and other people didn’t crash.

“But it was so difficult to drive, it was wetter than what it is now, and I just hit these bumps, and there’s so much water, and I crashed. I don’t feel like I was taking too many risks or anything, and that also helps me, I don’t feel that it was all my fault, although it kind of was.

“I’ve just gone through the corner and started to aquaplane when I hit the bumps, and I’ve lost the car. I don’t feel like I tried doing the best lap of my entire life and risked everything through Eau Rouge on my lap one. I just went through it normally, I downshifted a few gears, I braked and lifted off. There was too much water, that’s why.”

The crash was a rare setback for Norris in what has been a brilliant season. Despite two non-scores in a row – he was taken out at the start in Hungary don’t forget – he still lies third in the World Championship, five points clear of Valtteri Bottas and nine ahead of Sergio Perez.

Staying ahead of guys who are driving race-winning cars won’t be easy, and it will be fascinating to see if he can manage it.

Ricciardo grid

Daniel Ricciardo’s qualifying position meant he grabbed fourth place to help McLaren outscore title rivals Ferrari


“If is the big one!” he said when I asked about his prospects. “They should be ahead of me you know, and they have much quicker cars. So when they do pass me, and I’m feeling like it’s more of a when rather than if, I’m not going to be surprised.

“But we’ll do our best to stay ahead. And to do that we just need to focus on what we have been doing, which is mainly trying to beat the guys behind us, beat Ferrari and AlphaTauri, because they’ve been very fast lately.

“And if we have opportunities upon that to be ahead of Mercedes or Red Bull every now and then, we’ll take them….”