Italian GP: McLaren lockout highest team grid start since 2012

Italian GP: McLaren lockout highest team grid start since 2012

McLaren will start from P2 and P3 at the Italian GP, the team’s highest starting grid position since 2012, after a monster Sprint Qualifying session.

McLaren couldn’t ask to be in a better position after Saturday’s Sprint Qualifying session at the Italian GP. The Woking-based team find themselves sitting the highest on the grid since the 2012 Brazilian GP, after solid drives from both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

Starting from P4 on the grid, Norris managed to capitalise on a slow start from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. Passing round the outside to overtake the reigning World Champion into Turn 1.

While teammate Ricciardo gained two positions leading into Turn 1. Starting from P5, he also took advantage of Hamilton’s bungled start. With the slipstream provided by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen propelling Ricciardo past Hamilton and Norris with ease.

The McLaren duo settled into their respective positions for the remainder of the Sprint. Both starting on soft compound tyres, degradation was expected to come in to play during the latter stages of the session. However, a safety car period following Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri leaving the track played into the team’s favour.

Ricciardo would go on to finish P3, behind Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen. His highest result to date since joining McLaren for the 2021 Formula 1 season. Bottas’ grid penalty for taking a new power unit, however, saw the Australian bumped up the order and will now start Sunday’s race from P2. While Norris who finished P4, will now start from P3.

“It’s been a long time to be in this position so it’s good,” Ricciardo said after the session. “It’s good to be back. Tomorrow’s the important one, but we gained a position from Valtteri’s problems so we’re on the front row and that’s been a long time, so very happy for that.

“Also, for McLaren it’s been a long time, for me it’s been a long time. It’s definitely refreshing to be back up here and yes, we’re close. I know a few things might have to swing in our favour tomorrow, and we’ll certainly put ourselves in the fight, in the hunt.

“I’m hungry. I’m hungry. Anybody who saw me after qualifying, I think they’re not surprised about this outcome today.”

Although Ricciardo remains realistic about the team’s chances for Sunday’s race, McLaren are in a good position for at least one podium finish. Their main rivals, Ferrari, will be staring one row behind Norris in P5 and P6.

McLaren showed good pace across practice and qualifying, a step up from last weekend at Zandvoort. With Ricciardo and Norris managing to stay ahead of the Scuderia in the timesheets.

But while Ferrari may still be able to put up a fight in the early stages of the race, the biggest challenge for McLaren will come from Hamilton breathing down their necks. A situation that Norris is well aware of and prepared for.

“I think comparing to the majority, we’re looking good and I think we can be confident,” Norris said during his post-session interview. “Comparing to the Mercedes we’re definitely a lot slower, and at some point Lewis is going to be coming past me tomorrow because in this situation you’re pushing like hell for 18 laps, I’m using the tyre, sliding everywhere just to hang on. But when you have to try and get to Lap 40 or 45 on a tyre or something, then I won’t be able to do that for that long.

“Yes, a good day, because in this situation you can do that, but I think comparing to the Red Bulls and the Mercedes, we’re just too far behind to really want a battle. But we’ll still give it a go and I’ll hang on for as long as possible, but we can still have a good result, no matter what.”

Sitting just 10.5 points behind Ferrari in the constructors’ standings, decent points finishes by Norris and Ricciardo will see the team poised to retake third in the championship.