Lando Norris’ strong start to the 2021 F1 season continued at Portimao, as the McLaren racer charged to fifth place on the road, trailing only the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers.
The 21-year-old, who has spoken previously about the low confidence levels he endured during his first career starts in 2019, now says that his confidence is the highest it has ever been, having taken three straight top five results to start the 2021 campaign.
After qualifying in seventh on Saturday behind former team-mate Carlos Sainz and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, an impressive manoeuvre on the opening lap saw him move past Ocon, while an astute safety car restart moved him past Sainz and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
Keeping the latter at bay for the remaining laps would prove to be too tall a task, with Norris settling for fifth place – his strong start to the year is backed up by the fact his Portimao finish marked his worst result of opening three races.
While team-mate Daniel Ricciardo is seemingly struggling to adjust to life at McLaren, Norris is thriving at the start of his third year, which he says stems from his working environment.
“I feel… not overly confident, I feel as confident as I have ever been,” Norris said. “It is important not only on race day but in qualifying and throughout the whole weekend and the whole year, so I feel good, I feel like we are doing a good job as a team, we are talking about the things we need to be, we are preparing for the things we need to be preparing for.
“We are doing a good job and doing what needs to be done. And the hard work is paying off. More weekends like this would be lovely, but they are still very difficult even though they might sometimes look easy from the outside. We will do our best. But a good amount of points so I am happy.”
McLaren has conjured an impressive resurgence since its depths of despair a handful of years ago. It currently trails championship leaders Mercedes by 48 points – after three races last season, the gap was 80 points, and in 2019 it was 122.
Norris says that the Woking-based squad’s pace at Portimao gives it confidence that it can be consistently fast throughout the upcoming campaign, as it pushes to finish third in the Constructors’ Championship for the second consecutive year.
“It is only race three but a very good job, by me and the whole team, the pitstops and everything was as good as we could do,” Norris commented.
“The others are way too far ahead of us today. We tried. I got ahead of Perez, and if I had the pace to stay there that would’ve been ideal, but I didn’t. I had to look after my own race, manage my own expectations and know who I am actually racing against.
“It was a lot of fun, the first half a lot of fun. The battling, the racing was difficult but what we enjoy. The second half was a lot more stressful, keeping Charles [Leclerc] behind, managing the Medium tyres as well. So a race of two halves.
“The fact that we were good here gives us some good confidence for other tracks for sure. We definitely struggled here last year, so it is nice to see some of the improvements we made. We have obviously made a lot of progress, and comparing to the other guys we had very good pace. So I’m happy but it is not like it was easy. Charles was pushing me a lot through the whole stint. So we still have work to do to make my life easier, it is always nice, but will keep pushing.”