Lando Norris to begin from second row for the first time in his career – and the first for ever-improving McLaren since 2016
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 04/07/20 7:44pm
Lando Norris admitted McLaren surprised themselves by beating hottly-tipped Racing Point as well as other rivals to fourth on the Austrian GP grid – their utmost qualifying result for four years.
Although McLaren headed in to the delayed season with confidence within their own package after a strong winter testing programme using their MCL35 back February, the proper execution of Racing Point – whose car has taken inspiration from Mercedes’ 2019 challenger – was especially ominious in F1’s midfield.
Racing Point have duly looked competitive throughout the Austrian weekend up to now, but a wonderful lap from Norris in Q3 meant he not just beat Sergio Perez by more than 0.8s but he also split the Red Bulls.
Ferrari, meanwhile, struggled to seventh and 11th.
Norris told Sky Sports F1: “We had our own expectations of where we thought we were going to be and from the very beginning the Racing Points have already been extremely quick.
“We never really thought we’d take with the opportunity of beating them or getting close to them but even as we went to lower fuel and into qualifying, the car began to come alive and feel much better.
“This track last year was very good for us, we’d good confidence in the automobile and it suits it. Hopefully the race goes well – and we have two weekends of the [in Austria], so hopefully we are able to repeat it as well.”
McLaren never have started a race from the second row since Jenson Button did so in Austria in 2016.
But discounting grid penalties, it’s the first time McLaren have qualified fourth or higher outright since the 2014 Russian GP.
Norris, who started fifth and finished sixth in Austria this past year, is nevertheless expecting a far more challenging battle over the race distance on Sunday.
[Racing Point] were definitely quicker than us on Friday. We weren’t expecting this at all,” said Norris, who took a phone call from the Crown Prince of Bahrain ahead of his interview via team boss Zak Brown.
“I’ll 100 per cent go for now but, around I’ll be looking ahead in the race and try to proceed, I think there are a great number of cars behind us [who are fast too]. Ferrari specially, their raced pace is quite storng – for some reason their qualifying pace is a long distance off. – and so may be the Racing Point’s.
“It’s going to be a dififcult job but if I stay around where I am then I’ll be happy.”
The new Formula 1 season is underway Sky Sports F1 with the Austrian GP. Sunday’s race starts at 2.10pm. Find out more & subscribe.