Lando Norris has backed McLaren to challenge Red Bull and Max Verstappen at the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix, two weeks after they landed just their second double-podium since 2014.
Norris finished 19 seconds behind Max Verstappen, while Oscar Piastri achieved his first-ever Formula 1 podium in third after going close several times earlier in the season.
With the only previous Qatar GP taking place before the big 2022 regulations change, there’s a sense of uncertainty heading to the Losail International Circuit but Norris was asked whether McLaren can replicate their Suzuka success.
“I feel confident we can have another strong weekend,” Norris told the press. “To the level of Japan? It’s tough to say, I feel like Mercedes can be quick this weekend, maybe Ferrari not quite as strong. But our goal is to replicate what we did in Japan.
“I think looking at like the Japan race trace our pace was very strong, even compared to Max. I finished 19 seconds behind, I probably lost eight or nine seconds minimum in VSC to Sergio. So I would’ve finished 10-12 seconds behind Max.
“I think that was pretty, pretty incredible for us, you know, to achieve such a thing. So our goal is to do the same this weekend, whether we can close it, or the gaps going to be bigger, it’s too difficult to say. Would it be a win? I don’t think so.”
Norris: Oscar and I are driving on a knife-edge
Norris added McLaren does have the pure pace to get close to Verstappen and Red Bull, but added the RB19 has much better versatility. He likened the MCL60 to ‘driving on a knife edge’, with a very narrow operating window to extract competitive performance.
After McLaren were the worst team at the season-opening Bahrain GP and Norris pitted six times managing a hydraulics issue, he’s scored points in every single race since receiving the team’s revolutionary upgrade in Austria.
Piastri got those developments a week later at Silverstone, but he two has been a top-ten regular ever since, only missing out twice due to incidents.
“I felt like Max has maybe got a little bit more in the bag than what we do,” Norris added. “The whole of Japan, even when it was easygoing and the team told me, ‘right, you’re good’, I still pushed as much as I could.
“Just because you never know, if Max has a problem, you never know what can happen. So I always feel like it’s better to do that than ever chill and fall into that relaxed zone.
“But it’s also unlikely, I feel like Max still has the pace, he has a more drivable car than what we do at the minute, that’s our next target without development is still to make it a bit quicker. But also just to make the car a bit easier to drive in different conditions.
“Because both Oscar and my comments are still, you have to drive the car on a knife edge, if you aren’t pushing to 100 percent we’re just slow. I feel like we’re doing a good job finding that level but it’s very difficult. As soon as conditions change we’re just struggling a bit more.”