McLaren took its best result of the season in the Australian Grand Prix after finishing fifth and sixth. But far from declaring it proof of a turnaround in form, Lando Norris warned that “this might be as good as it gets for a while.”
Norris qualified fourth and finished fifth ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, with the McLaren drivers effectively in control of the midfield pack behind F1’s big three teams — Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes — throughout the race.
This was comfortably McLaren’s best showing of the season, as it had both cars comfortably in Q3 having not done so in either Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. Its best result before Melbourne was Norris’s seventh in Singapore. It followed a difficult time in pre-season testing, with brake cooling problems in the Bahrain test that required a series of hasty fixes, and had both drivers complaining of a downforce deficit in the early races. Norris felt the improved from was the result of a strong weekend in terms of getting the most out of the car on a circuit that didn’t expose the car’s weaknesses in slow corners and on more bumpy tracks.
“We are still optimizing everything and there’s still a lot of things we’ve had to work on,” said Norris. “But realistically, the car’s just worked well from the off. The car’s just been good from FP1 and throughout the whole weekend.
“It shows there’s strengths in the car and we just need to keep working on our weaknesses if we want to be here more often, because not all tracks are as smooth and as quick as this. So I think this might be as good as it gets for a while. We’re going to go to a couple of tracks which might be a bit tougher for us. But the team are motivated. I guess a day like today really helps them out and keeps them happy. So a good result.”
Although there have been no major changes to the car, Norris does believe there have been some small steps. But he was quick to stress this isn’t what was responsible for the improved result, which owed more to good execution of the race weekend.
“We’ve made some small steps of progress, but a lot of it is just the circuit,” said Norris. “The car is pretty much exactly the same as what it was in Bahrain, which is the problem. If we went back to Bahrain, we’d still struggle a lot, so we have to work on these areas still. If we want to be here a lot more often through this season, we still have a lot of work to do.
“It’s not like we’ve taken big steps forward. We’ll keep working hard because I think it’s paying off. But still going to be a tough season.”
Ricciardo remained upbeat during the first two weekends of the season, even saying after the race at Jeddah that he wouldn’t be surprised if McLaren won a race later in the year. That seemed optimistic at the time, and while being competitive enough to win on merit is still a long way off, he believes the Australian weekend justified his optimism.
“That’s where a lot of my optimism from the first few races has come from,” said Ricciardo of the progress made in understanding the car. “I knew the results were pretty poor at that stage, but I also knew we hadn’t completely understood everything there is to know about these cars.
“I always kept in the back of my mind that we might find something, a circuit characteristic that puts us in a good place. I didn’t think it would happen by race three, but happy to have shown it here at home.”