MELBOURNE, Australia — McLaren still has a lot of “hard work” to do, says Lando Norris, although he and teammate Daniel Ricciardo have qualified in the top seven for the Australian Grand Prix.
The team had their best Saturday of the season at Albert Park, with Norris taking 4th place, behind lone poleman Charles Leclerc and the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. Meanwhile, Ricciardo set the seventh fastest time in Q3 and will take the lead from the fourth row of the grid for his home race.
But those results may have flattered McLaren. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who appeared to be in contention for pole position, was unable to complete a competitive lap in the closing stages of qualifying and had to settle for ninth place.
Earlier, Fernando Alonso suffered a hydraulic failure, a problem which he says prevented him from setting the best time of the session.
“I think most of it is the track,” Norris told reporters after qualifying in Melbourne. “We haven’t brought anything that has changed much and it’s not like we can do much more with the setup to make it go much faster. It’s 70-30 or 80-20, in terms of 80 it’s just a track and 20 is hard work.”
Ricciardo was a bit more optimistic in his assessment of McLaren’s early season form, which saw the team score just six points in the opening two races.
In the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, both McLarens finished more than 50 seconds behind winner Leclerc. Last time out in Jeddah, Norris took seventh place while Ricciardo suffered engine failure.
“It’s good to have a good qualifying under our belt. We’re starting to get the car under control a bit more,” said Ricciardo. “There are similarities [here] to Arabia [Arabia]in terms of its smooth, high-speed nature, it’s maybe a bit better for us right now.
“We’re building…good confidence with the car and we’re able to push it closer to the limit. That also helps.”
Earlier in the weekend, Ricciardo told reporters he was still getting the hang of his new McLaren and there was “certainly still room for improvement” on his part. The comments come after the slow start to last season, in which Ricciardo was consistently overshadowed by Norris at the start of the season and unable to crack the top five ahead of the British Grand Prix.
“Do I feel like I’m pulling every last millisecond out of [the car] Again? Not often enough. So there are things I want to keep improving behind the wheel. I obviously expect to keep improving.”
McLaren will be looking to capitalize on both cars starting in the top seven for the first time since last year’s Russian Grand Prix, and team boss Andreas Seidl is hoping a good number of points can be scored.
“I was happy today that we were able to confirm in qualifying the performance we saw in our cars throughout the practice sessions,” Seidl said. “I think we can be in a similar performance window tomorrow throughout the race, which means we are ready for decent points for both cars. I would be very happy if we could start tomorrow night with points. solid.”