"I already knew that Carlos Sainz is as good as Ricciardo"

Lando Norris talks to AS about his great season, the secret of one-lap flying, the McLaren left by Sainz and Ricciardo's adaptation.

"I-already-knew-that-Carlos-Sainz-is-as-good-as-Ricciardo"

"What a great driver Lando is," Hamilton radioed just after passing him at Spielberg. Norris (Bristol, 21 years old) is the fashionable man on the grid. He took the podium in Imola, Monaco and Austria and was fourth in the World Championship with a McLaren clearly inferior to the Red Bulls and Mercedes. The Englishman was already shining in qualifying, but his quality jump in 2021 has come on Sundays, in the race. He is as young as he is talented and combines his driving skills with another class of essential requirements to stand out in the Great Circus: he exudes charisma.

— I start with a joke. McLaren has no Spanish drivers for the first time since 2013 and it seems this is the best car they have made in a long time. Let's see if Fernando and Carlos were to blame for everything ...

- (Laughter). I do not know. The problems started a long time ago, when Fernando was at McLaren, but they had nothing to do with Fernando. Also, then we improved a lot with Carlos here in the last two years. 2020 was better than 2019, and 2019 was better than 2018. Carlos helped a lot in those two seasons to make McLaren a better team. So no, I don't think the Spanish were the problem (laughs).

— How has your role on the team changed this season?

— The difference is that now I am the most experienced pilot, I am aware of everything that has changed in recent years, and that is something that Daniel (Ricciardo) cannot do for now, nor use in meetings. He can compare more with Renault and Red Bull, and I can't. I think they need me more at McLaren now, especially during the first third of the season. Daniel needed to get used to the team, the car and the speed. They trust me more to help the team, I have a stronger opinion and I can say what needs to be improved about the car. I can help a lot, that's the main thing, but not so many things have changed.

— Is everything going well for you this season?

—The car is good, the team did a great job in winter to make progress. It is not that we have always had the third car with a margin, Ferrari beat us in several classifications, although in the race we came back with good strategies. I'm still nervous every time I go to qualifying because I can be left out in Q2. But things work out, I feel like I'm doing a good job on Saturdays and especially on Sundays, which is when the points are added up. It has been a very intense year with my engineers to improve, you cannot pretend to do nothing in winter and become a better rider from the following year.

—Three podiums, almost two poles (in Imola and Austria). Where does this improvement come from? What role do the car, the engine and the driver play?

— The car plays its part, although it does not perform equally well on all circuits. We almost made pole in Imola or Austria, it is true, but in France we were more than a second away. The important thing is the race and when you see Red Bull and Mercedes so far away, and so consistent with the tires, you realize how much progress has to be made. For my part, the biggest change is on Sundays. Now I know what I have to do at all times. Taking care of the tires, recharging batteries, positioning yourself, not making mistakes, not blocking ... everything that will help you on the next lap. There are many small details and mistakes that you may not see on television, such as a corner lock that causes you to lose confidence during a race. I am more on top of everything and I have more experience, I know when to take risks and when not to. In Baku, he was 13th after the first lap and at Paul Ricard, 11th, behind Daniel. But I didn't panic because I knew the race was long and I could do better if I managed the tires. Engine-wise, it's a step up in pure performance, an easy win on the straights, and that's why we went to Mercedes. But it is not that big. Ferrari and Honda have good things with their engine and batteries and they help them a lot, perhaps more than us.

- What is it like to be Ricciardo's partner? He bent him in Monaco, how do you see him as trustworthy?

— I must improve regardless of who my partner is. Anyway, I already knew that Carlos is extremely good, he is showing it with Charles (Leclerc), he has the speed from the beginning and he is close to one of the best drivers in F1. I also know that compared to Carlos, I am well placed, in some areas he is better and in others, I am. And what I was missing, which were Sundays, I have reinforced this year. I was not worried about Daniel's arrival because I know that Carlos is very good, on a similar level as Daniel. Daniel has won races and perhaps that is why there are people who value him above Carlos, because he had not driven for a champion team. It is taking a long time to get used to the car and the equipment, there are people who need the perfect car and others are happier with an uncomfortable car. Daniel needs confidence, the other car (Renault) allowed him more than this one and his driving style is very different from Carlos. That must be taken into account and I can also learn a lot from him.

— Leclerc or you are one of those drivers who pull a perfect qualifying lap out of nowhere. How is that done? How do you judge what the limit is at such a specific moment?

—I wish I could explain it and be clear about it, because there are many things that happen naturally. It's your pilot instinct. I do not know. I remember that in these years, on some tracks Carlos was ahead of me in qualifying, although at the end of last season I looked very confident to get the best lap. They are sensations, you need the confidence in yourself to adapt so quickly. Sometimes it works and you look like a hero, other times you make a mistake. But I don't have an answer, if I knew how to do it I could explain it to other pilots. Carlos was not a bad classifier, we both put pressure on each other and I also improved thanks to him. Although it has been one of my strengths in karting and single-seaters, now it is a bit the other way around, I am better on Sundays. I'm comfortable riding at the limit, on Saturday, and I never really liked driving under the limit to take care of my tires.

Photos from as.com

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