McLaren revel in superb French GP qualifying with Lando Norris fifth
Best team qualifying result since 2014 for improving McLaren in France - but how did they do it?
By Matt Morlidge at Paul Ricard
Last Updated: 23/06/19 11:31am
Lando Norris says his fifth in French GP qualifying was "better than we ever would have expected" and hailed McLaren after the famous team secured their best F1 grid positions in five years.
McLaren, the sport's 20-time champions and only behind Ferrari in terms of titles, have endured a barren few seasons amid engine woes, but they were the big stars on Saturday at Paul Ricard with Norris and team-mate Carlos Sainz locking out the third row.
The pair, new team-mates this season, finished qualifying ahead of Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, as well as Pierre Gasly in the Red Bull and will start Sunday's race in fifth and sixth.
The last time McLaren had two cars in the top six in qualifying was the 2014 Italian GP, when they were still powered by Mercedes.
"We have come into here thinking some of the corners are a bit like China, where we were pretty average," a surprised Norris told Sky F1. "We weren't expecting anything at all to be honest.
"We were thinking this was going to be a very tough one and it's turned out to be better than we ever would have expected."
Norris finished just nine thousandths of a second behind Max Verstappen in fourth, and added to reporters: "To beat one Red Bull is great because I think it was on pure pace, I don't think the Ferrari was on pure pace.
"But to lose out to Verstappen was a bit annoying!"
McLaren also finished ahead of Renault, their engine suppliers who had an upgraded power unit fitted in Daniel Ricciardo's car.
McLaren bouncing back...
McLaren start with a car in the top five for the first time a since the 2016 Austrian GP, when the Jenson Button qualified fifth and started third, while Sainz's sixth place also gives the team their best two-car starting positions since the 2014 Italian GP, when they were still powered by Mercedes.
"I've heard rumours now that Renault say we have a secret upgrade," said Norris, the English F1 rookie. "I wish we did - because we'd be even quicker if we were now!"
Ricciardo was also impressed, stating: "They really had speed all weekend. They've got like a hidden update that they've never told anyone about I think!
"It's impressive their pace, we couldn't match that."
Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, praised his team: "It's a good step forward. We are a second away from Mercedes and half a second away from Ferrari. It's an incredibly good job by the factory."
So why were McLaren so quick?
"It's something we need to look into," said Norris, 19. "We were very quick straight away in P1 which was kind of worrying for us because it was too good, almost.
"We were like, 'everyone else must be high on fuel or whatever'. But we've managed to continue it all the way through the weekend. So it has been good, but it's just this weekend.
"We can go into Austria [next weekend] and we might not be in Q3, so it's very track specific and this one seems to be suiting the car. So we need to make sure it always happens."
Sainz continued: "We didn't expect to beat a Red Bull and a Ferrari. It means we are doing our homework and our analysis back home and are bringing things that help the car a bit, but I think it's also the track.
"The track is suiting us, I don't know why. We need to analyse why, enjoy it and focus on tomorrow."
"We are efficient on the straights, which is good. We have a decent engine thanks to Renault and we introduced an upgrade in Spain that is working well in high-speed corners. Somehow it was not working very well in slow speed, but finally when we come to a track with high, low and medium speed that upgrade is working a bit better."
What can McLaren achieve in the race?
With McLaren just two points ahead of midfield rivals Renault in the constructors' standings, they are in a great position to secure solid points in the race and build a buffer in fourth.
"My aim is to win," Norris joked to reporters. "Whether that is going to happen I don't know.
"I think our pace is pretty good. I think Mercedes are quicker, Ferrari are quicker. It looks like we could fight Red Bull but you never know. I think we need some good points.
"If we can race the Red Bulls and I guess be around them, I think fifth onwards... we can be happy."
Sainz was more cautious, adding: "Happy to beat one Red Bull. I think Renault has done a step on the engine, I insist that on this kind of track has helped a lot. We are enjoying it in terms of qualifying.
"Are we going to beat Red Bull [in the race]? I struggle to think that but we are going to give it our best shot."
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