Russian GP: McLaren continue run of good form with Norris pole position

Russian GP: McLaren continue run of good form with Norris pole position

Lando Norris secured his maiden pole position during a damp qualifying session at the Russian GP, with McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo P5.

McLaren have set themselves up nicely with a potential haul of points on offer at the Russian GP. After FP3 was cancelled due to a rain soaked track at Sochi, qualifying surprisingly got underway on time as the weather started to clear.

Heading out on intermediate tyres for Q1, the track continued to evolve throughout Q2 and Q3. Halfway through the final session, Williams’ George Russell deemed the track suitable enough for slicks. Prompting the rest of the field to pit for the same.

Prior to changing to the soft tyre, Lewis Hamilton was sitting P1. However, a crash while coming into pit lane left Hamilton with limited time remaining on track. The current World Champion was unable to produce enough heat in the tyres during his sole lap on slicks, resulting in him slipping down the timesheets.

Other drivers were able to capitalise on the improving conditions, however, including Lando Norris who secured his maiden pole position since entering Formula 1. While former McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz will be lining up next to Norris on the front row of the grid, with Russell rounding out the top three.

“I don’t know what to say, what a manic session,” Norris said in his post qualifying interview. “We were going well and obviously we made the decision in the end to go slicks, but you never think you’re gonna get a pole until you get it and now I’ve managed to do it so I’m extremely happy. And big thanks to the team as well they’ve done an amazing job on what about.

“There have been a few times this season where I’ve been close and I’ve kind of had the opportunity to do it but I’ve missed out for various reasons. Sometimes my own mistakes or sometimes it was as a team. And today I managed to put it together and then do it again.”

Norris has shown time and again that he is suited to wet conditions, able to get the most out of the car and perform where other drivers may struggle. A drying track in Q3 that still required enough finesse due to wet sections, was all Norris needed to set a lap time 0.5 seconds faster than second placed Sainz.

But, while he was clearly excited to have chalked up his first pole position, the 21-year-old was somewhat less enthused with the added pressure of being the first driver down to Turn 1.

“I love these conditions obviously and I think one thing that makes it even better is the risk you got to put into a kind of a lap like that, the unknown you have to have to just go into a corner and just hope for the best,” he continued.

“It was tough. I want to make myself sound good but it was tricky you know because it was that crossover section, and the lap before I was like two seconds down and I wasn’t very confident we were going to improve on the previous lap. But then I kept my tyres warm and prepared the final lap. I risked quite a bit, I’m going to admit, and it paid off so I’m a happy boy.

“I’m not looking forward to being first down to Turn 1 tomorrow but it’s going to set us up well, we’re in the best position we can be and I’m happy. It’s my first pole position, hopefully the first of many.”

Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo has also set himself up in a good position to fight for points after qualifying P5. Struggling during FP1 and FP2 to extract performance out of the MCL35M, the Australian managed to fight back during qualifying.

Ricciardo has been on a hot streak since returning off the summer break at Spa. While McLaren struggled as a team at Zandvoort, he has been on the up and up, with a boost in confidence after his win at the Italian Grand Prix coming at just the right time.

But, while Ricciardo has found a return to form, it is clear he is still not entirely comfortable with the car, working through those final pieces to bring it all together.

“I’m glad we got to get the session done,” Ricciardo said. “Who would’ve thought we’d finish on slicks when there was a chance of not even doing qualifying today! Congrats to Lando on his first pole, and to the team – to keep the momentum of Monza is really cool.

“From a position point of view, I’m okay with fifth. I think it obviously puts us in good shape for tomorrow. Those conditions today were so hit and miss, you could gain or lose time so easily. There were certainly a few corners that bit me, but it’s all good. We learn from it. I’m pretty pleased. Congrats to the whole team – it was exciting, it was fun and now let’s keep the train going!”

Currently sitting third in the Constructors’ Championship, 13.5 points ahead of their Ferrari rivals, the Russian GP is providing McLaren with a good opportunity to move further head of the Scuderia. While Sainz is lining up in P2, teammate Charles Leclerc has been relegated to the back of the grid after receiving a penalty for a new power unit.

As F1 moves through the back end of the calendar, some tracks will suit McLaren, while others will be more suited to Ferrari. With both McLaren drivers having the potential to score big, they need to capitalise on the situation, taking the points where they are available. As the fight for ‘best of the rest’ will likely continue right up until the end of the season.