Lando Norris preparing to fight in congested Bahrain midfield behind leading trio
Lando Norris believes it is Red Bull, Aston Martin and Ferrari out front, with McLaren then scrapping with everyone else behind.
McLaren themselves painted something of a gloomy picture as they spoke of not hitting development targets with the MCL60 ahead of the Bahrain pre-season test, team boss Andrea Stella feeling their challenger needed developments if it is to become the fourth-fastest on the grid.
But with the F1 2023 season-opener in Bahrain now upon us, Norris had already been trying to tone down some of the negativity surrounding McLaren, and was very positive when he spoke to the media after Friday’s running.
Having ended FP2 in P9, 0.663s off Fernando Alonso’s session-topping time, Norris said the MCL60 was definitely feeling in a better place than it did in testing, believing that the cooler conditions under the lights at the Bahrain International Circuit were helping their cause.
“I think pretty reasonable,” said Norris when asked how the MCL60 felt out there on the track. “I guess we came here with a lot of stuff learned, so we kind of put everything best on the car that we know of, we set up in the best way.
“Definitely the best it’s felt all year, or let’s say from the test to now, which is a good sign. We made some steps forward and definitely moved things in the right direction.
“Still more to find for sure, but at the same time I felt a bit more comfortable today, I felt like I could push the car a little bit more, definitely the cooler conditions helping us a little bit, but at the same time a productive day.”
McLaren had looked off the pace in testing while issues with the wheel brows also cost the team track time, with their tally of 311 laps serving as the lowest number completed by any team.
Norris though said that the test was “relatively decent” apart from that issue with the wheel brows, which has now been fixed, while McLaren have a clear idea of how they can make the MCL60 more competitive, the hard part now being to actually do it.
“Even the test was relatively decent apart from one problem that we had,” said Norris, “but we fixed that problem and everything else is going well so far, so the team are doing a good job.
“We know where we stand, we know what we have to do to make things better and make the car quicker, it’s just not an easy job to do.”
But this version of the MCL60 is the car which McLaren must go to battle with in Bahrain, and it is a fiercer one than Norris initially expected.
With Red Bull, Aston Martin and Ferrari clear at the front in Norris’ eyes, behind that he believes it is anyone’s game.
“I mean, not going to lie, it looks tighter, like a lot tighter than I thought between everyone,” said the Brit.
“I think you still have Red Bull up front, then Aston and Ferrari and then kind of everyone else a little bit after that, so it’s tough.
“I think it’s going be very close, so I look forward to it, I also don’t look forward to it because I would love it to be easier, but it should make for a good weekend in terms of qualifying and also the race on Sunday should be exciting because of it.”
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As for McLaren’s debutant Oscar Piastri, he admitted that he is still not quite at 100 per cent yet having ended FP2 half a second down on Norris, but very much feels like he is trending in the right direction.
There were a few tricky moments with Piastri getting well out of shape in the MCL60 at one point during FP1, but this is what Fridays are for says the Aussie.
“It was good on the whole,” said Piastri as he reflected on his first taste of Friday running as a Formula 1 driver. “I think still a lot of learning going on which is good, a few mistakes in there, but that’s what Fridays are for.
“I feel like I’m making progress, still not 100% happy with where I’m at, but yeah, feel like I’m improving every session which is good.
“I think this morning it was pretty low grip out there for everyone, so maybe just a bit overly optimistic on how much I could push, but yeah, I think it’s just trying to search the limit of grip and the car seems to be performing reasonably well, like it’s in a pretty good window, it’s just me trying to push the limits and in an F1 car they bite back pretty hard.
“I feel like the car is still how we expect it to be, we don’t quite know where we are until tomorrow night when everyone turns up for qualifying, so we’ll see where we are.
“I think for me at the moment, still some big gains to gain from myself in terms of driving, so that’s what I’m focused on at the moment.”