McLaren impresses on opening day in Bahrain

Lando Norris

McLaren has exited the gates strongly as the 2021 Formula 1 season got underway with practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix overnight.

Both Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris ended the day’s two sessions inside the top 10, with the latter second fastest in the later running.

“I think we started where we left off in testing, which is a good thing,” said Norris.

“The car has improved in some areas, which is positive, but other areas have got a little bit worse.

“It’s been a tricky day to put it all together but on the whole I’m happy.

“Here and there we’ve got some work to do for tomorrow, but if we can put it together, hopefully we can be competitive.”

While the team itself is happy, some observers have suggested McLaren’s performance is evidence it has leapfrogged the factory Mercedes team.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas struggled for balance in the W12, though on race pace look a match for the Red Bull, which appears to have edged ahead as favourites for Sunday’s race.

Norris though is less certain, suggesting McLaren is racing those in the midfield, rather than the front.

“We seem to be very close to AlphaTauri, Ferrari and other cars, so tomorrow will definitely be tight, but we’ll see what we can do,” he suggested.

Daniel Ricciardo

Friday featured two 60-minute practice sessions, half-an-hour shorter than has traditionally been the case.

The reduced running made for a track swarming with cars, and a busy day for Ricciardo.

“I thought having an hour session instead of 90 minutes meant it would be a bit easier, with less time on-track – but it was pretty chaotic actually,” said the Australian.

“You feel the half-hour. It goes quick.

“I think it was quite fortunate that we were here a couple of weeks ago, so we could hit the ground running. I think you need to make the most of that track time.”

Embarking on his first race weekend with McLaren, Ricciardo admitted following pre-season testing that he’s not yet getting the maximum out of the car.

That remains true after Friday’s running.

“I’m still getting there, I still want to find a few things in the car and obviously within myself,” he confessed.

“In FP2 I made some inroads, but hopefully I’ll find another step tomorrow to get more where I want to be.”

McLaren’s executive director of racing, Andrea Stella, added to Ricciardo’s sentiments about the condensed day increasing the intensity.

“The first day of practice for a new season is always very busy, but today was intense, with the length of the sessions reduced from 90- to 60-minutes,” he said.

“Happily, we didn’t have any major problems. The team did a good job to ensure both our busy sessions progressed smoothly, and we completed our programme.

“The change of conditions from day to night, and the major variable of the wind always keeps it interesting in Bahrain,” he added.

“In addition, the field looks incredibly compact and competitive, so there’s a lot of work to do to be ready for qualifying and the race – but we’ve started with a productive Friday.”

Norris was half a second down on Verstappen’s best time in opening practice, closing to just 0.095s in Free Practice 2.

Meanwhile, Ricciardo has half a second down on his team-mate in the opening session, reducing that to just under 0.3s by day’s end.

The final practice session ahead of Sunday’s grand prix gets underway at 23:00 AEDT this evening and is followed by qualifying at 02:00 AEDT on Sunday morning.

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