McLaren masters drama in Barcelona

Lando Norris snatched what appeared to be a safe pole position from Max Verstappen in the Formula 1 qualifying in Barcelona. On a dramatic day for McLaren, the Briton celebrated his long-awaited redemption. After the fire in the paddock, he managed the perfect lap despite chaotic preparation. The big win on Saturday was long overdue for him. After the liberation, Norris is aiming for his second win of the season. McLaren team boss Zak Brown believes he has a chance of winning the World Championship.

“It feels great. A pole always feels good, this is the second of my career. I’ve had two sprint poles, but I don’t see them as pole positions,” said Norris after the heart-stopping finale against Verstappen. In the end, two hundredths of a second were enough for him to start a Formula 1 race from pole position for the second time since the 2021 Russian GP. The long wait was finally over for the pole-setter: “Sochi was a while ago.”

In recent years, Norris had often berated himself on Saturday for missed opportunities. “I’ve heard so many times from my engineer that I messed something up. It’s so difficult these days with the cars and the tires. You push so hard to get everything together. Sometimes one half works, sometimes the other, or vice versa. But getting everything together at the limit is very tricky, and I think every driver says that. When you manage it, it’s very satisfying, and when you get pole, it’s even sweeter,” said Norris happily.

Risky round: Norris overcomes qualifying curse using eggs

This time he left absolutely nothing behind at the decisive moment. “It was an incredible lap. I managed the whole lap and had a nice slipstream. It was probably all my best corners together in one lap,” explains the 24-year-old, who was already Verstappen’s first pursuer in the first two parts of qualifying. However, the world champion emerged as the favorite for pole with clear best times. His lead in Q2 was almost two tenths of a second.

“Max was always about two tenths ahead on the runs we did. And we only did three runs, in the whole qualifying it ended up being just four,” explains Norris. “I knew I had to do something perfect in Q3 to make it – and that’s what I did. It was maybe the best lap I’ve ever done. You know you’re on a good lap when you’re excited about it.”

In the end, he risked everything for the perfect lap: “I was always a little bit short of Max and I knew it was in the fast corners. So I knew that on the last lap I just needed the balls and I found that little bit, the two, three, four hundredths that I needed for Max,” said Norris. “It was only the two high-speed corners, Turn 9 and the final corner, where the car was moving and jumping around. It doesn’t exactly boost your confidence when your car does things like that in corners like that. It’s unpredictable and it’s nerve-racking to throw everything in and take the risk in high-speed corners like that.”

This had already come back to haunt him in preparation: “Over the weekend I took some risks, pushed and was in the gravel a few times, damaging the underbody here and there. But in the high-speed area I didn’t push the limit so much, where the consequences are more severe. But in the data after Q1 and Q2 we saw that I lost two tenths on Max just in those two corners, where I feel least comfortable. So it was just a matter of going for it and hoping that I could get out in one piece. And that’s what I needed on the last lap and that’s exactly what I did.”

Hospitality fire makes life difficult for McLaren

In the morning, a fire in McLaren’s hospitality area caused chaotic conditions in the paddock. The run-up to the third practice session and qualifying suffered as a result. “The most important thing is that everyone is OK. One person had to go to hospital for a check-up, but everything is OK. It was a shock for the team and the day was more stressful than we would have liked,” said Norris, who was unable to prepare as usual.

“My shoes are gone, but that was the worst thing for me. It was just different. I couldn’t go to my room and relax like I normally do,” he explains. “But the teams were very nice to us and offered help. It was all great, it’s just a shame that we [Hospitality] today or tomorrow or perhaps even in the future”.

The aftermath of the fire was noticeable everywhere in the daily routine. “It’s still a bit chaotic. I have two sets of everything. They were able to save a few things, but some are probably not that usable anymore. They smell pretty bad from the fire. I got some things back and I like to listen to my music beforehand. Oscar always complains that I always listen so loudly before the sessions. I didn’t have that this time,” says Norris.

The drivers had to find other rooms to prepare for the sessions: “I was upstairs in the engineers’ office and Oscar was downstairs in the truck. I also used Zak’s office [Brown] occupied, which he is not entirely happy about. In the end, it was no problem, and I am not the type of person to complain about such things. I could also just do nothing and get in the car if I have to. But you do take a few minutes to yourself if you have the opportunity.”

Norris wants second Formula 1 victory

Norris will also have to cope without his normal routine on Sunday. “Tomorrow it might affect me a little more that I can’t find the peace and quiet that I like. But it’s not the end of the world. I won’t complain,” he says. The perfect starting position, however, allows him to overlook it. “I’m looking forward to racing. I’ve probably raced against Max the least because he’s always so far ahead. I’m happy to be in this position and it will definitely be a battle throughout the entire race.”

The start in Barcelona with the long run to the first corner is already the first key moment: “This is perhaps one of the places where you don’t want to be on pole. But this is an opportunity for us to win the race. We didn’t do many long runs, but we were close. Our car won’t be any faster tomorrow. Between Mercedes, us, Red Bull and Ferrari, eight cars could have been on pole today and they also have a chance of winning the race tomorrow. It will be about making the fewest mistakes.”

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