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Norris delighted with ‘better than expected’ qualifying in Australia after struggles to 'unlock myself'

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren looks on in the Paddock

Lando Norris was surprised to put himself ahead of one of the Ferraris in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, with the Briton ending the session in P4 ahead of Charles Leclerc. His starting position was later elevated to P3 after Sergio Perez was hit with a three-place grid penalty.

While team mate Oscar Piastri looked to potentially be the lead McLaren during the earlier segments of the session, it was ultimately Norris who had the advantage in Q3, though he admitted afterwards that this had come after what had been a not entirely smooth weekend so far.

READ MORE: Verstappen surges to pole position for the Australian Grand Prix ahead of Sainz and Perez

Asked if he had expected to end up in P4 on the grid, Norris responded: “I would say so. It’s probably better than I was expecting, honestly. [I thought] two Ferraris, two Red Bulls, I didn’t expect to be ahead of one of them. It was Charles, so probably even more of a surprise.

“But yeah, happy with today, honestly. I’ve not [felt] like I’ve done that well this weekend. I struggled to put things together and just to get comfortable with the car, knowing how to push on it. Normally when I feel like I push, it goes the opposite way of what I want.

“It’s something I’m still struggling with, I would say, and I’ve struggled with a bit this season, and as soon as I got a little bit more comfortable, like now and through qualifying especially, I felt like I could just unlock more from what I wanted and I could kind of control the car better.

P4 on the grid ‘better than I was expecting’ admits Norris

“As soon as I do that I feel like I can get a lot more lap time out of it, but it’s just very difficult to do that. But yeah, I think a good day for us as a team, good starting position for tomorrow. It’s a long race with probably multiple pit stops, so something to look forward to.”

Having unlocked pace after becoming more comfortable with the MCL38 in the session, Norris is optimistic about what he and the team can go on to achieve when they put things together.

FACTS AND STATS: Ricciardo's first ever Q1 exit in Melbourne spoils the Australian's homecoming

“It’s why I signed at McLaren for so many more years,” he explained. “I’m happy with where we are and the things we’re doing and what we’re trying to improve, but I know there are just those things missing which I just struggle to replicate and unlock myself.

“But when there are instances of it, then there’s a bit of a smile on my face and I can push and I can kind of drive a little bit more how I want, but it’s rare that I kind of get that feeling, that I maybe had a little bit more of in the past. But yeah, I know it’s what we all know it as a team.

“I think we all are working on it extremely hard and I think some good things are coming and are in the pipeline. So [there is] stuff to look forward to, but today it was a positive day, better than we had expected and I think a good showing against Ferrari and Red Bull, so very happy with that.”

‘In Q3 I just didn’t make it happen’ admits Piastri after ‘messy’ final session

Piastri, meanwhile, will line up in P6 for Sunday’s Grand Prix and was left slightly frustrated by what he felt was his own drop-off in performance compared to earlier in the session.

Asked for his thoughts on his qualifying, the Australian said: “Mixed emotions, to be honest. I think Q1 and Q2 looked really strong, and then in Q3 I just didn’t make it happen. A couple of messy laps which is a bit frustrating, but yeah, I don’t think we’re massively out of position.

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix

"A bit frustrating with my own performance but we’ll see what we can do tomorrow. Our race pace looked pretty strong yesterday, so hopefully we can try and use that. Trying to fight the cars ahead of us is going to be tough, but we’ll give it a go.”

While Piastri believes that battling with the cars in front could be a challenge, he is hopeful of at least being able to maintain his position.

“I think going after them is going to be tough, to be honest,” he conceded. “I think Ferrari have looked incredibly strong all weekend, Red Bull looked a little bit shaky yesterday but I don’t think anyone’s that surprised that Max [Verstappen] is on pole.

“I think it’s going to be tough to challenge those guys, but yeah, I think that’s just where we’re at at the moment, so if we can… As much as I hate to say it, if we can finish where we start then that would honestly look like a decent result for us.”

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