McLaren finished third in last year’s constructors’ championship and the Woking team are expected to confirm their status as the best of the rest behind Red Bull and Mercedes in 2021.
While McLaren drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Norris qualified sixth and seventh respectively in Bahrain, behind a Ferrari and an AlphaTauri, Norris rose through the ranks to fourth place as the top non-leading finisher for one of the two best teams.
Asked by Autosport if the opening of the 2021 season confirmed that McLaren was at the top of the midfield battle, Norris said it was “hard to say” if the team was the best of the rest, but was encouraged by the fact that McLaren is closer to Red Bull and Mercedes than last year.
“We’re close, we’re not miles away from Mercedes and Red Bull compared to last season,” Norris replied.
“I think we have narrowed the gap a bit and hopefully on some tracks we are closing it even more.
“It’s hard to say if we’re easily the best of the rest, I don’t know what the pace of the AlphaTauri was like, but I think the car is good.”
Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Norris qualified behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, but after a two-lap scuffle in the opening stages, he managed to overtake the Monegasque driver in Turn 1, then pulled away comfortably.
AlphaTauri’s racing pace is more unknown due to the fact that fifth starter Pierre Gasly hit Ricciardo’s back in the first lap, but his rookie teammate Yuki Tsunoda showed Faenza’s side have potential on its route from the 13th to the ninth.
Norris expects McLaren’s battle against Ferrari and AlphaTauri to “move forward and backward” all season, but he is confident that McLaren’s racing pace would be higher than Ferrari’s in Bahrain.
“Yeah, I think we kind of knew that from the FP2 races and the test we did here,” Norris explained.
“I think we understand what [Ferrari] can make.
“Even last year Charles was ahead of us in qualifying and the Ferrari can be very quick in qualifying.
“During the races, they seemed to be struggling.
“I think we were clearly faster on the pace which was a good thing, but there will probably be races where they can maintain the tires better and be a lot faster.
“It’s going to come and go between us and Ferrari and with AlphaTauri it seems pretty close between us so I can’t wait to fight.”