Norris delighted to split Mercedes for P5 in qualifying but anticipates 'tough race' in France
Lando Norris said his lap for P5 in French Grand Prix qualifying was “the type of lap that you feel like you should be on pole with” as he weighed up a battle against the Mercedes on Sunday. Team mate Daniel Ricciardo, who on the other hand qualified 11th, said he made a “positive” step despite not making Q3 on Saturday.
Norris managed to qualify in front of George Russell and behind Lewis Hamilton at Circuit Paul Ricard on Saturday, the McLaren driver however admitting that he didn’t even expect to make Q3 ahead of the session.
“It has been a very good day,” he began. “Before qualifying, we were discussing whether we should even talk about Q3, because it was very far away from what we thought we could achieve.
“I’m happy; I mean my lap in Q3 felt like a really good lap, the type of lap that you feel like you should be on pole with! In other categories if you do this lap, I feel like I’d be very happy with that, and if I’m not on pole then I’d be surprised but I was still like one-and-a-bit seconds away.
“But apart from that, the team have done a good job and I feel like I’ve done a good job extracting everything, so we are in the best position we could be for tomorrow.”
The 22-year-old did not, however, seem so confident about the prospect of taking on Mercedes in Sunday’s race.
“Like I said, we weren’t expecting Q3 today, so to be P5 today is a good step, and I’m hoping a similar scenario happens tomorrow, where we are thinking we might have a tough race but hopefully it’s just a really easy one. But I’m expecting a good race and a good battle with Fernando [Alonso, starting seventh] and maybe not the Mercedes, but I’ll try.”
With McLaren having brought significant updates to France, Ricciardo – who qualified 11th but will start ninth given Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen’s engine penalties – was pleased with his showing on Saturday with the latest-spec MCL36.
“It’s positive, yes, we will have a look back through the lap and see why I didn’t get what I wanted in some of these places, but I think generally it’s a step forward.
“I think some corners [the upgraded car is] good; some corners not so good. I think in general there is improvement but it’s… some corners I still struggle, just trying to push and getting those few more tenths out of it, I still don’t feel like I get the reward or get the car coming back to me the way I feel.
“But there were some places, I feel like Turn 1, 2, you can feel the car is a bit better loaded and stuff. So, there is certainly some positives, but some corners where I still scratch my head, so still a bit to find.”
McLaren start the French Grand Prix level on points with Alpine, who have Fernando Alonso starting seventh and Esteban Ocon 10th in their home race on Sunday, when the lights will go out at 1500 local time.