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Norris thrilled with run to P3 in Suzuka qualifying as he says ‘hard work is paying off’ for McLaren

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Lando Norris hailed “some good steps forward” at McLaren after he emerged as the nearest challenger to Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Fresh from a morale-boosting podium finish in Australia that kickstarted McLaren’s season, Norris built on his and the team’s strong performance around the iconic Suzuka circuit last season to get the better of Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin and secure a spot on the second row of the grid.

READ MORE: Verstappen beats Perez to pole by 0.066s in Suzuka as Norris seals P3

Asked how enjoyable it was to be in the mix at the front of the field again, Norris said: “It’s always exciting. You don’t get many chances, but we had a good car today. I could fight, I did some good laps, especially in Q3, so I’m very happy with today.

“It’s always enjoyable here in front of the fans. It’s a good one for us as McLaren, we had a good year last year, a good race last weekend, so it’s nice to still be here.”

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 06: Race winner qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red

Norris was best of the rest behind Red Bull drivers Verstappen and Perez in qualifying

Asked if he is aiming to follow up his strong qualifying performance with a run to the podium, Norris added: “Of course, of course. We’ve had a good car all weekend.

“We’ve made some good steps forward. We’re trying to catch up to these two Red Bulls, but they’re doing a good job, the whole team is doing a good job, so fair play to them.

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

“But we’re working hard and the hard work is paying off slowly, so we’ll keep pushing. But today is a good start to the weekend, tomorrow is the main job.”

Team mate Oscar Piastri, meanwhile, had to settle for a slightly less eye-catching sixth on the grid, having felt his qualifying session started much better than it finished.

2024 Japanese GP Qualifying: Close call for Russell and Piastri in the pit lane in Q1

That was despite the Mercedes of George Russell being released into his path in the pit lane during Q1 in an incident the stewards are looking at post-session.

“I think Q1 looked quite competitive and quite strong for myself, Q2 not quite as much, and then Q3 a similar kind of story,” explained Piastri, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Saturday. “I think I just lost a bit of rhythm in Q2 and never quite found it again. It’ll be interesting to see where I could have improved.”

READ MORE: Leclerc opens up on Bianchi tribute helmet as he says former Ferrari protégé ‘needs to be remembered’

Pushed about his chances of getting himself into podium contention on Sunday, the Australian said: “Yeah, I think so. I think our race pace this year has been quite strong.

“Our car is clearly pretty competitive around here, but so are the cars around us. Strategy could be a big factor, the weather could be an interesting factor tomorrow, so we’ll see what we can do.”

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