McLaren gains may be track specific, say drivers

MELBOURNE, Australia — McLaren still has plenty of “hard work” to do, says Lando Norris, despite both he and teammate Daniel Ricciardo qualifying inside the top seven for the Australian Grand Prix.

The team enjoyed its best Saturday of the season at Albert Park, with Norris taking P4, behind only pole winner Charles Leclerc and the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. Meanwhile, Ricciardo set the seventh quickest time of Q3 and will head up 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 the mix for pole position, was unable to hook up a competitive lap in the final stages of qualifying, and had to settle for ninth.

Earlier, Fernando Alonso suffered a hydraulic failure, an issue which he believed prevented him from setting the session’s best time.

“I think the majority of it is the track,” Norris told reporters after qualifying in Melbourne. “We’ve not brought anything which has changed much and it’s not like we can do that much more with the setup to make it go that much quicker. It’s 70-30 or 80-20, in terms of 80 is just track and 20 is hard work.”

Ricciardo was a little more optimistic in his assessment of McLaren’s early season form, which has seen the team score just six points in the first two races.

At the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, both McLarens finished over 50 seconds behind race winner Leclerc. Last time out in Jeddah, Norris claimed seventh place while Ricciardo suffered an engine failure.

“It’s nice to get a good quali under our belt. We’re starting to get on top of the car a little more,” said Ricciardo. “There’s similarities [here] to Saudi [Arabia], in terms of the flowing and high-speed nature of it, maybe that’s a little better for us at the moment.

“We’re building … good confidence with the car and being able to push it closer to the limit. That also helps.”

Earlier in the weekend, Ricciardo told reporters he is still coming to grips with his new McLaren and that there’s still “definitely still room for improvement” from his end. The comments come after last season’s slow start, in which Ricciardo was consistently upstaged by Norris in the early part of the season and unable to produce a top five finish until the British Grand Prix.

“Do I feel I am getting every last millisecond out of [the car] yet? Not often enough. So there’s and things I want to keep getting better at behind the wheel. I just obviously expect to keep getting better.”

McLaren will be looking to take advantage of having both cars start in the top seven for the first time since last year’s Russian Grand Prix, and team boss Andreas Seidl is hopeful a good haul of points can be scored.

“I was happy today that we could confirm in qualifying the performance we have seen in our cars throughout the practice sessions,” said Seidl. “I think we can be in a similar performance window tomorrow throughout the race, which means we are set for decent points for both cars. I would be very happy if we could leave tomorrow night with solid points.”

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