Oscar Piastri surprised by Lando Norris’ sudden drop off in pace

McLaren have looked strong in practice and qualifying for the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP

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Oscar Piastri was surprised about what happened to McLaren teammate Lando Norris’ in the final part of Saturday’s qualifying session for Sunday’s 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Norris, who had been on the pace throughout the three practice sessions, had been challenging Max Verstappen for pole position before a slide in the final sector cost him a front-row spot.

But Norris’ woe was Piastri’s gain as the Australian’s final lap was good enough for third on Sunday’s grid, securing his highest starting position since qualifying second for September’s Japanese GP.

“I don’t know what happened to Lando on the last lap, I was struggling a little bit in the first two parts of quali, or certainly the first part,” Piastri explained to the press.

“I’ve just been struggling to get it together this weekend I think, before qualifying, I hadn’t done a  lap without quite a major mistake.

“So, I was struggling to get everything together I think we got a few things wrong in qualifying that, you know, made it seem worse than it actually was.

“But we knew here [it] would be a lot better [than Las Vegas] the pace has been good the whole weekend.

“It was a bit of a surprise for me just how tight everything was at the start of Qualifying. I think it was like four-tenths from first to 15th in Q1, so you couldn’t afford to make a mistake. 

“But no, at the pointy end [of the grid], and [it’s] nice to be back in the top three.”

Oscar Piastri at 2023 Abu Dhabi GP | McLaren

McLaren’s happy place

During the final practice session before Qualifying, both McLaren drivers had shown strong pace, with Norris the quicker of the pair after setting the second fastest time less than a tenth slower than pacesetter Russell.

The final practice session also saw several top drivers struggling for pace, with Charles Leclerc fifth quickest and Max Verstappen only sixth as Red Bull struggled for speed.

McLaren’s key strength around Yas Marina has been its pace in high-speed corners and sector 1, which have helped their drivers gain time on their rivals.

However, the weakness of the MCL60 is in sector 2, which features two straights and two low-speed corners, costing both Piastri and Norris valuable time.

“We’ve been quick in sector 1 all weekend that seems to just be our happy place around here, but everything else is a bit up and down,” said Piastri.

Russell‘s been looking extremely quick in all of the practices, and Max said he was struggling a bit, so it’s been a bit hard to get a  read on where everyone actually sits.

“But the normal stuff, like the medium-speed corners, high-speed corners that’s where I think we’re strongest, and the slow stuff is where we struggle a bit more.”

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