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Piastri optimistic McLaren can be in the mix at Suzuka as Norris says practice pace ‘better than it looked’

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SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 05: Sparks fly behind Oscar Piastri of Australia driving the (81) McLaren

Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris both shared cautious optimism over McLaren’s prospects at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix as the team look to build on their first podium finish of the season last time out in Australia.

Piastri and Norris placed eighth and 10th respectively in Friday’s dry opening session, just over a second off the pace set by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, after the red flag caused by Logan Sargeant’s mid-session crash compromised their soft-tyre runs.

FP2: Piastri sets fastest time as rain leads to limited running during second practice in Japan

In a damp but gradually drying second session, Piastri was one of few drivers to make the switch to slick tyres late on, in the process earning him the fastest time of the session – albeit one that served up little valuable data for the teams.

Asked what he learned from the day’s running, after leading Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in FP2, Piastri said: “A few bits and pieces. I think we’re in decent shape.

“Even in FP1 the timing of the red flag was pretty awkward for us, so a bit hard to know exactly where we stand, but I think we’re about where we have been. I don’t really have much more than that [to go on] at the moment. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

McLaren ‘optimistic we can be close to the front’ in Japan – Piastri

The sophomore racer continued: “I think we’ve got a competitive car. I think it will be interesting to see if we can replicate the pace we had in Australia.

“Obviously it was a good track for us last year, but I feel like other people have gained some more strengths. So yeah, we’ll see what we can do, but I think we’re reasonably optimistic we can be close to the front.”

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

Norris, who led home Piastri in a McLaren two-three result behind Verstappen at Suzuka last season, agreed that the squad’s pace looks “reasonable” again so far this weekend.

“[It’s] better than it looked, I think, just because of the red flag,” he said. “While I was on my best lap the red flag came out and then the tyres drop off a lot on the second lap.

“I think we’re in a good position, probably around third-quickest team, but very, very close with us, Mercedes and Aston. Kind of as you would expect, and Ferrari and Red Bull are too far ahead.

Norris: McLaren pace ‘better than it looks’ after Friday practice

“I’m sure maybe it can narrow down a little bit into tomorrow, but I think so far probably as we expected and as it’s been all year.”

Norris also revealed how he and Piastri went in different directions with their set-ups during practice as McLaren bid to learn as much as they can about their MCL38.

WATCH: Sargeant crash brings out red flags during FP1 in Suzuka

“I mean, I was [on a] different [level of] downforce to what Oscar was,” he explained. “I tried something different, I tried a bit lower and it didn’t seem to be quite as good.

“It would have been nice to get some more running today, but I’m sure tomorrow morning will be fine just to get that kind of final feeling before quali. The car’s still good, it’s more that, just like we said, Ferrari have taken a good step forward and are probably ahead of us.

“But the car is still performing in the window we expect and where we think it should be. [We] still a struggle in certain places, so the focus is on trying to limit the losses in those few places. If we can do that I think we can still have a good day.”

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