RACE DEBRIEF

    Lando Norris could have been starting the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in P3 had he not run wide at Piratella on his fastest lap in Q3 – with Norris left cursing a misjudgement that cost him his joint-best career grid position.

    Norris caused excitement in Q3 at Imola when he lit up the timing screens on his final effort in qualifying for McLaren, the Briton eventually crossing the line with a lap of 1m 14.454s – a time that would have been good enough for P3, 0.044s ahead of Verstappen.

    READ MORE: Hamilton takes 99th pole in Imola as Perez seals first front row start ahead of Verstappen

    But stewards subsequently discovered that Norris had run wide going through the Piratella left-hander, causing his lap to be deleted. And the Briton – who’ll now start the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in P7, one place behind McLaren team mate Daniel Ricciardo – was left kicking himself after failing to capitalise on the gains his team had made following a lacklustre Friday.

    “I’m pretty disappointed, pretty annoyed with myself,” said a dejected Norris after qualifying. “I think it was a very good day until then. I think the team did an awesome job, the car really came alive in quali. We made a lot of improvements from Friday, but on that one lap that I don’t need to make a mistake on, I effed it all up.

    Gutted Lando Norris 'let everyone down' with track limits mistake

    “It’s the same for everyone, so at the end of the day, it’s my mistake,” Norris added. “But from the outside it looks a lot easier just to stay within the lines then what it is inside [the cockpit]… But when you’re in quali and you’re in Q3 and you have an opportunity to be P2, P3 or score your best result in qualifying, you’re pushing, and when you’re going at such a speed and at such a high speed corner, misjudging by this amount is [easy].”

    READ MORE: Leclerc wary of McLaren threat at Imola despite ‘great qualifying’ to earn second straight P4 grid slot

    Norris’ mistake meant that, for the second race in a row, Ricciardo qualified one place ahead of his team mate in sixth. But with Ricciardo having struggled for pace all weekend – having failed to finish higher than 10th in all three practice sessions – the Australian was left satisfied with his own turnaround, as he continues to get to know his new McLaren MCL35M.

    “The whole weekend I was not a top-six guy, probably not even close,” said Ricciardo. “So it was a little – I guess the word is surprising, but probably just still the reality of not still having a whole lot of time in the car. I don’t want to keep saying it as an excuse, but I just know each lap I turn, I’m getting better, and I would love to have been better form the start, but it’s still going to take some time.

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    Ricciardo continued to build confidence in the McLaren MCL35M

    “I think the progress through quali was really encouraging. It still wasn’t the best lap in Q3, or not something I’m really delighted with, but certainly better. I’ll leave here today feeling a little bit more upbeat than probably yesterday.”

    READ MORE: 'We're not robots' – Verstappen on 'messy' Q3 that led to being out-qualified by a team mate for first time since 2018

    Meanwhile, the McLaren drivers will be encouraged by the strong race pace they showed last time out at the Bahrain Grand Prix, which saw Norris jump from his P7 grid slot to fourth at the flag, while Ricciardo – who podiumed for Renault at last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix – might have finished higher than his eventual seventh had he not suffered floor damage early on.