‘It was a lot of fun’ – Norris revels in McLaren pace after third straight top-5 finish
Three races down for McLaren’s Lando Norris in 2021 and three top-five finishes so far, with Norris claiming P5 at the Portuguese Grand Prix, after a race in Portimao the 21-year-old Briton described as both “fun” and “stressful” in equal measure.
Having been unable to summon up the one-lap pace witnessed at Imola two weeks ago – where Norris narrowly missed out on P3 in qualifying, before finishing on the podium for the second time in his career – Norris started P7 at Portimao. But a string of impressive overtakes on the likes of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and even Red Bull’s Sergio Perez early on would ultimately help Norris to fifth at the chequered flag, the Briton holding off the advances of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the second half of the race.
So, is Norris beginning to get used to life in the top five?
“Well it’s only three [races],” laughed Norris after the race, “but a very good job, by myself, by the whole team with the pit stops and everything. It was as good as we could do; the [Mercedes and Red Bulls] were way too far ahead of us today. We tried, and I even got ahead of Perez. If I’d had the pace to stay there, that would have been ideal, but I didn’t so I had to look after my own race, manage my own expectations and know who I’m actually racing against.
“But it was a lot of fun, the first half… the battling, the racing was difficult but what we enjoy. The second half was a lot more stressful keeping Charles behind and managing the medium tyres as well, so a race of two halves.”
With team mate Daniel Ricciardo recovering from his “grim” P16 in qualifying to P9, McLaren maintained both their P3 in the constructors’ standings and their record of both drivers finishing in the points at every race so far this year – the only team to have managed the feat.
But while Norris said that performing well at Bahrain, Imola and Portimao showed the progress McLaren had made this season, he was still keen for the team to keep pushing for more performance in the coming races.
“I think the fact we were good here gives us some good confidence for other tracks for sure,” said Norris, who held onto his impressive P3 in the drivers’ standings after Portugal. “We definitely struggled a bit here last year, so it’s nice to see some of the improvements we made. Yesterday we maybe struggled a little bit more than we were expecting, or maybe more today we did a little bit better than we were expecting.
“But the car felt good,” he added. “It was still not easy to drive, still quite tail happy a lot of the time, especially when it gets windy, but we’ve obviously made a lot of progress, and compared to the other guys, we had very good pace. So I’m happy, but it wasn’t like it was easy. Charles was pushing me a lot for the whole [final] stint. So we’ve still got work to do to make my life easier, which is always nice, but we’ll keep pushing.”
With Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz finishing out of the points in P11, meanwhile, McLaren stretched their lead over their Italian rivals to 11 points in the constructors’ standings – with racing resuming in just seven days’ time at the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona.