Austrian Grand Prix – With McLaren’s star on the ascent, Lando Norris says the team’s immediate short-term goal is to solidify their position at the front of the midfield.
McLaren have enjoyed their best start to a season since 2013 this year, with their new driver pairing of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris scoring points on a consistent basis over the opening rounds of this year’s championship.
Last time out, in France, Carlos Sainz finished a comfortable P6 and heads the midfield driver’s championship battle behind the top teams of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing. Lando Norris spent most of last Sunday’s race in P7 but a late hydraulic issue put him into the clutches of the following Renaults and Alfa’s Kimi Raikkonen. He would be passed on track by all of them on the final lap but managed to classify P9 after a time penalty was handed to Daniel Ricciardo.
As a result of Sainz and Norris scoring consistently, McLaren enjoy P4 in the Constructor’s Championship right now and are eight points clear of their engine supplier’s Renault factory team. Norris says that consolidating their P4 position is the team’s immediate goal: “That’s where we want to be for now but eventually we want to do better than that. For now, we want to become firm in our place and bridging the gap between the midfield and top teams. That went very well at Paul Ricard, and we want to continue here. It’s going to be tough – there’s a lot of things for us to improve on and a lot of teams looked very strong in the race. We just want to be consistently be in front of other midfield teams and that’s our aim.”
“Renault are a very strong team, I think they’re the closest to us in the Championship. It is positive for us to be up there with them and, as a team, we’re not just improving against other people but also in terms of how we work together and improving the car. Especially in areas we were weak in, and we’re seeing those improvements and the gains and that’s going in the right direction.”
Having almost managed to outqualify Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, Norris says that the possibility to outpace the Honda-powered team will probably only happen in qualifying conditions rather than races: “We might be able to challenge Red Bull in some places – maybe Monza? On average, we’re getting a bit closer but, on race pace, we’re a long way off them. In qualifying, we’ve been close but there’s still the much quicker car overall through corners and that shows in the race. At some tracks, the differences will be more highlighted than others.”
As for in what areas Norris thinks McLaren have improved over the last few months, he said: “This year was a fresh start – new drivers, new personnel here and there around McLaren – a fresher start than in previous years. We didn’t know what to expect in Australia, but we started reasonably well and the whole atmosphere is an improvement on last year and more upbeat. More concentrated and working on the right areas.” Tongue in cheek, he added: “An improvement in drivers as well!”
Having retired from a potential points finish in Montreal when his suspension melted, Norris has encountered some bad luck in recent races, but the British driver says he’s confident the team are on top of their mechanical issues: “I don’t know what Montreal might have yielded, maybe some points. Last weekend, I was doing reasonably well and we deserved to finish P7. A failure on the car is not the nicest thing to have, especially after a weekend that went so well. It happens, the team are working on it, and trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”