McLaren Spa pace 'reasonable but not incredible' - Norris

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren. 26.08.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Belgian Grand Prix, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, Practice
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McLaren's Lando Norris added another impressive showing to his season after ending Friday's free practice sessions at Spa-Francorchamps third fastest behind Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.

Norris' best FP2 time in variable weather conditions clocked in at 1:46.589s, but that was still just over a second off the dominant pace of the Red Bull.

This is a home race for Verstappen, who despite racing under the Dutch flag was actually born in Hasselt, Belgium. And Norris also has grounds to claim this weekend as a second home race with his mother Cisca hailing from Flanders.

It certainly seemed to give the 22-year-old an extra boost as he finished ahead of the likes of Lance Stroll, Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in today's session.

“I think the car was in a reasonable position,” Norris reported after the chequered flag. "[But] I wouldn’t say it was incredible.

"The Aston’s [Stroll] only half a tenth behind me, which we shouldn’t be happy with, so we should work hard tonight and try and take a step forward tomorrow.

"We’ve still got a lot of work to try and smooth out, let’s say, some problems and issues and difficulties" he said. "But [it wasn't] bad in terms of pace today.

"There are a few different parts on the car this weekend, so I think just understanding those and understanding the lower downforce configuration was good."

Norris knows that regardless of his strong pace in practice today and whatever happens in qualifying tomorrow he will be starting from near the back of the grid because of grid penalties for new power unit components.

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL36. 26.08.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Belgian Grand Prix, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, Practice

"Lando has taken a power unit penalty at this event and will be starting from the back of the grid," confirmed McLaren executive director Andrea Stella. "But he has shown good pace today, and we are optimistic he can make up positions."

"Obviously having the power unit grid penalties this weekend, we were trying to focus more on the race rather than qualifying," Norris pointed out. "Today was more about optimisation, which hopefully will pay off more come Sunday."

Verstappen, Leclerc, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon and Mick Schumacher all face a similar handicap for Sunday's race meaning that a lot of drivers will be out of position around him and eager to make early progress when the lights go out.

"It's tough. As a driver you always want to race them no matter what," he said of the knowledge that Verstappen and Leclerc will be especially eager to dispatch him as quickly as possible at the start.

"You've just got to try and use them to your advantage," he said. "I know they will be coming past me at some point fairly quickly, so in whatever way I can use them to get past the guys ahead, I'll see."

Norris said that overtaking was 'usually' a possibility at Spa, but added: “I think it’s still going to be a little bit different this weekend.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) McLaren MCL36. 26.08.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 14, Belgian Grand Prix, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, Practice

"There’s been a bit of a trend [this season] that some tracks have been harder to race on and some tracks much easier," he explained. "We saw Budapest was a lot easier this year than what it’s been in previous years.

“The one thing here is the slipstream is a lot less than normal comparing to previous years and the previous car that we had.

"Understanding that and knowing if it’s going to help with the overtaking or make it worse is also something we have to figure out," he noted, conceding that today's variable weather meant no one had been able to get a firm understanding.

"We didn’t get many chances today to get that answer sorted," he said. “So we’ll see. I think there’s still a lot of question marks, so we need to try and find them out and find the answers tomorrow.”

Norris' team mate Daniel Ricciardo was also looking on decent form this weekend just days after McLaren announced he would be leaving the team at the end of the current season.

The Australian was ninth fastest, and moreover doesn't have to worry about a grid penalty on Sunday. "There are a few points on track which we can improve on, but I think it’s clear where they are," he said.

"It’s now just trying to optimise the set-up and figure it out as we can go in one of two directions, so we can decide which direction’s best tonight."

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