‘We’re where we deserve to be’ – McLaren drivers Ricciardo and Norris ‘very happy’ with P6 and P7 in Bahrain qualifying
McLaren set tongues wagging in the paddock with their sterling performance in Friday’s two practice sessions for the Bahrain Grand Prix, even leading some to speculate about the chance of them being title fight outsiders this year. But after new driver Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris claimed P6 and P7 in qualifying for the race – behind cars from Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and AlphaTauri – the duo said they were satisfied to be “where they deserved” on the grid.
It was Norris in particular who grabbed the Friday sessions in Bahrain by the scruff of the neck, going third fastest in Free Practice 1, before finishing FP2 in second place, just 0.095s off the pace of eventual pole winner Max Verstappen in the Red Bull. But having been disenchanted with his own performance on Friday, Norris was a lot more positive after claiming seventh in qualifying, one place behind his new team mate Ricciardo.
“I’m very happy,” said Norris. “I think sixth and seventh for us is good – maybe the other way around would have been even better! But we were very close, and it wasn’t like there was ever one of us miles in front or like we thought we could extract a lot more out of the car.
“I think we’re where we deserve to be, where we expected to be, with the AlphaTauris being extremely quick and the Ferraris being very quick too,” he added. “We always knew that, and we knew that coming into this weekend and this qualifying, so I think we can be happy with sixth and seventh.”
McLaren new boy Ricciardo maintained his record of never having been outqualified by a team mate at the Bahrain International Circuit – and having trailed Norris throughout Friday, the Australian was enthused by the step in performance he felt he’d taken behind the wheel of the Mercedes-powered MCL35M.
“I did make a nice step today and that’s what I’m most satisfied with,” said Ricciardo. ”I think I just made progress each session, didn’t overcomplicate it… We started a bit off the pace yesterday, but I know it’s a process and to kind of make a good difference tonight, I was really happy.
“So it’s a good start… I’ll sleep a little better knowing I got a bit more out of the car today.”
Meanwhile, with McLaren having finished last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix in fourth and fifth, both drivers were hopeful of another strong Sunday performance in the Kingdom this weekend.
“We tried to analyse a little bit from yesterday and the race pace was pretty close with everyone,” said Ricciardo, who starts just behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in fourth and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly in fifth. “We saw Charles put in some big qualifyings last year but didn’t have the race pace to maintain it. I think it’s a different story this year. We’ll see, but I expect him to have obviously decent race pace as well tomorrow. I think he’ll be there till the end.
“Gasly [starts on] a medium, so that will probably help him, but maybe make him vulnerable at the start. So let’s see.”
“It’s going to be as tough as always,” added Norris. “I think the AlphaTauris do look very quick, maybe Ferraris not quite as good just on general pace throughout this weekend. But also Mercedes aren’t as far ahead as what they used to be, so there’s opportunities throughout the race with strategies and things like that that could come into play.
“But first race of the season, so we’ve got to have a lot of anticipation and wait for things to happen and see what unfolds throughout. I feel like we’re in a good place, we have a decent car, we just need to execute and make sure we don’t do any silly mistakes because it’s the first race and then I’ll be happy.”