Lando Norris described securing his P4 grid position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as the “perfect start” to McLaren’s quest to clinch third place in the constructors’ World Championship.
It was a brilliant performance from Norris who, when pressed by Sky F1, admitted it would have been a pole position lap if his McLaren had a Mercedes engine – as it will next year.
The Briton was only 0.251sec down on the time set by pole-sitter Max Verstappen and will have his team-mate Carlos Sainz immediately behind him on the grid after he qualified P6 – the duo importantly ahead of all the Racing Points and Renaults.
Those three teams are still vying for third position behind Mercedes and Red Bull in the constructors’ standings with Racing Point holding a 10-point advantage over McLaren, with Renault a further 12 back.
Significantly, Sakhir Grand Prix winner Sergio Perez will start at the back of the grid in his Racing Point having been penalised for using too many engine parts this season.
Strong start to 2020 🚀
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2020
Norris told Sky F1: “Fourth is a good achievement for us, but I don’t think fourth is the achievement – two tenths off pole is the achievement.
“A bit of a surprise because we’ve not been within a second, let’s say, all weekend but as we went into qualifying, the car has really hooked up and come alive a lot more.
“A few things to try and understand on our behalf of why and how this has happened, but for a Saturday and how we are approaching this weekend it was a perfect start.”
However, the 21-year-old is taking nothing for granted considering that in Bahrain, Perez found himself at the back after an opening-lap collision with Charles Leclerc and yet still came through to win, while Norris could be at a strategy disadvantage starting on soft tyres.
“One of the guys we need to be at the back is at the back, Lance Stroll is P8 and the Renaults were a bit slower than we were anticipating,” said Norris.
“But I don’t think we can rule anything out because Perez came from last and won last weekend. He’s often come from the back and had a podium or something, so it’s not like we can relax or be happy with this. We’ve still got a big job to do tomorrow.
“We were nervous of whether we could even get into Q3 today. I’ll have a bit of a harder job than the people on the mediums tomorrow so it’s not ideal, but I’m a few positions ahead so I’ll hang on.”