McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris says he and his team “never really thought” Racing Point was within reach in Austria before qualifying a standout fourth ahead of their rival.
Norris’ fourth place, achieved by lapping 0.687s slower than Valtteri Bottas’ pole and slotting in between the two Red Bull cars, is his career-best F1 qualifying, and will mark the highest a McLaren lined up on the grid since Jenson Button’s third place at the same Red Bull Ring venue four years ago.
McLaren and Racing Point each outpaced the other in one of the two practice sessions on Friday, but both Racing Points cars beat both McLarens in Saturday morning practice.
But Norris qualified ahead of sixth-placed Sergio Perez, while the other Racing Point car of Lance Stroll was ninth, one place behind Norris’ team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr.
“We had our expectations of where we thought we were going to be and from the very beginning the Racing Points have been extremely quick – so we never really thought we would be within a chance of beating them or getting close to them,” Norris told Sky Sports F1.
“But as we went to lower fuel and into qualifying the car started to come alive and felt much better.
“This track last year was very good for us, we had good confidence in the car and it suits it so yeah, hopefully the race tomorrow goes well.”
“This track last year was very good for us, we had good confidence in the car and it suits it, so yeah, hopefully the race tomorrow goes well.”
Norris, however, expressed slight pessimism over how his McLaren would stack up against Racing Point – or the faltering Ferraris – in race trim.
“They were definitely quicker than us on Friday,” he reiterated of Racing Point.
“Like I said, we weren’t expecting this at all. I’ll 100% take it for now but as much as I’ll be looking ahead in the race and trying to go forward, there’s a lot of cars behind us.
“Ferrari especially, their race pace is very strong – for some reason their qually pace is a long way off – but so is the Racing Point.
“They have a good car, a lot of downforce, I think they can look after their tyres slightly better than us so it’s going to be a difficult job so if I can stay around where I am [in the race], then I’ll be happy.”
Red Bull driver Alex Albon, beaten by Norris in the final seconds of Q3, had his decisive lap ruined by Bottas’ off – but isn’t convinced he would’ve been able to see off the McLaren driver either way.
“It would have been closer to Lando, I’m not sure if it would have been quicker than him,” Albon said.