IMOLA, Italy (Reuters) – McLaren’s Lando Norris said he was shocked to be back on the Formula One podium after his team had seemed so far off the pace at last month’s season-opener in Bahrain.
Norris finished 15th in Bahrain while Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo was 14th after running last at the end of the opening lap, but McLaren have been improving steadily since then.
“I genuinely didn’t think we would be on the podium all year after Bahrain. So it’s quite a shock,” the Briton, who has now scored points in his last three races, told reporters after finishing third at Imola.
“Maybe not surprising after the kind of progress we’ve made over the last month but yeah, definitely not a podium you know, with how much quicker the Red Bulls and the Ferraris are.”
Norris was also third at last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and Sunday’s conditions, initially wet but with the track drying, suited him.
He had also started third after a strong showing in Saturday’s points-paying sprint race.
Asked whether he felt he had the third fastest car, Norris poked fun at friend and Mercedes rival George Russell whom he has accused of playing down his car’s speed to make himself look good.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, another friend, advised him to talk himself up.
“You should say it’s all the driver, mate. All the driver,” said the world champion and race winner.
“It is,” replied Norris.
“You had the worst car,” exclaimed Verstappen, getting into the spirit.
“Yeah, we’re ninth or tenth but my driving this weekend has been pretty amazing,” said Norris, who felt his car had been slightly quicker than Russell’s fourth-placed Mercedes but maybe slower than the Alfa Romeo.
“It doesn’t really matter: we beat two cars who are probably a second a lap quicker than us,” he added, referring to the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and championship leader Charles Leclerc.
Sainz went off on lap one and Leclerc was sixth after a spin while chasing second place.
“One ended up in the wall and one ended up in the gravel… I think we just executed a great race from our side. The car was good, and I had good confidence and that’s all I needed,” said Norris.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Fallon)