Lando Norris admits he was surprised by how close to pole position he was after qualifying in fourth place at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
McLaren took a new power unit for Norris ahead of the last race in Bahrain, strategically receiving a grid penalty that only cost him four positions due to a poor qualifying. It transpired a battery issue limited the gains from the new engine a week ago but in a clean qualifying Norris was just a quarter of a second away from pole position and the team was left trying to understand how he ended up so close.
“Obviously I’ve got the new PU and it’s helping me out a lot more than it was bringing me down the last few weeks,” Norris said. “So maybe I have half a tenth advantage or something over the whole lap but I’m not two and a half or three tenths down like the last few weekends.
“So a bit more competitive, which is nice, and happier to look at the data and not seeing myself down on the straights which is a good thing. But I don’t think that was the help at the end, I just think my Q3 lap was just very strong and it was just a very nice, tidy lap.
“It wasn’t like it was perfect altogether but it was definitely my best of the year I think, in terms of getting the tires in a good window and maximizing what we have as a package this weekend.
“It kind of took me by surprise — and probably all of us by surprise — how close we were to P1 and pole at the end of the day. I think that was the surprising thing, but of course P4 and the lap I did I was very happy with, so it was a nice way to end qualifying this season.”
With Carlos Sainz taking sixth in qualifying, ahead of Lance Stroll in eighth and Sergio Perez starting at the back of the grid, McLaren has a strong chance of overturning the 10-point deficit to Racing Point on Sunday, but Norris is wary of getting carried away with Saturday’s performance.
“I mean, it’s the best opportunity we have at the moment, but it’s more like a very small part of it — 90% of the work we still have to do tomorrow, today’s just the tip of it. It’s giving ourselves the best opportunity tomorrow but as we’ve seen over the last five or six weekends, Perez is sort of known for coming from last to getting a podium, or getting taken out last weekend and ending up winning a race.
“It’s not something we can get relaxed about or be happy with really. I think we can be happy about it after the weekend, but for now I think we have to very much concentrate on maximizing our own race tomorrow, still looking ahead and not looking behind. Because we know Racing Point are going to be extremely quick, we know the Renaults are going to be very quick and we know Sergio is going to be coming through.
“So I don’t think it changes anything — it doesn’t change our decisions, we’ll still do everything we can to try and finish as high up and do what we normally do.”