Lando Norris is encouraged by the progress McLaren has made at the start of the new season and expects further gains in the coming races.
He took the chequered flag fourth in Bahrain behind both Mercedes drivers and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Sergio Perez took fifth in the other Red Bull having started from the pit lane.
Norris said the first race of the season shows McLaren have closed the gap to the top two teams since last year.
“We still finished ahead of Perez, although he had a few problems and maybe he would have been a little bit further up,” said Norris. “But we qualified ahead of him more because [although] he didn’t make any big mistakes he just couldn’t put it together.
“We’re close. We’re not miles away from Mercedes and Red Bull comparing to last season. I think we’ve closed the gap quite a bit and hopefully at some tracks we can close even more. It’s good.”
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly outqualified both McLaren drivers but failed to score after damaging his front wing while battling Daniel Ricciardo. Norris acknowledged his rival’s early setback disguised how great a threat that team might be in the future.
“It’s hard to say if we’re easily best of the rest,” he said. “We don’t know what the pace of the AlphaTauri was like.”
McLaren has switched from Renault to Mercedes power this year and had little opportunity to prove the installation of the new hardware due to the reduced amount of testing prior to the new season. Norris believes the team can still make gains in this area.
“I think the car’s good. It showed a lot of good points, some bad points and things we clearly need to work on, both from engine but also from the [power unit] side of things. And that’s not easy, but there’s some free lap time, let’s say, and things which make our lives as drivers much easier. Then we can do even better.
“So I think we’ve got a bit of work to do on Saturdays, probably even more so than on Sundays. But still on Sundays there’s a lot of things to work on and things to make the car even quicker.”
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2021 F1 season