Lando Norris admitted he was shocked to be in the top three in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, after only being edged out for a spot alongside Max Verstappen on the front row by Carlos Sainz.
Verstappen dominated qualifying and was comfortably quickest after the first run of Q3, but it was Norris who was second at that stage after an impressive lap. With a number of drivers improving on their second attempt, Norris found more time but lost out to Sainz by 0.058s, yet was still unsure why the McLaren was so quick.
“I have no idea — I am surprised to be here!” Norris said. “Amazing job, P3. I lost P2, but it’s a home race for Carlos so I thought I would give him a couple of tenths, you know? Very happy. P3, it’s nice. The whole of qualifying we were quite quick, so all good.
“I think after FP1, we said it was probably one of our worst FP1s of the season, in terms of pace. So to be sat here today, I think it’s quite a big surprise for all of us. I think (with) the cooler conditions, things just started to come our way a little bit. It just feels a bit odd. I definitely wasn’t thinking at all to be in the top three today. But I’m very happy to be here. So, good day.”
With teammate Oscar Piastri also reaching Q3, the McLaren is competitive in Barcelona but Norris does not expect to be able to try and hold onto a top-three position in the race.
“You never know, the pace could be mega and I could catch Max and overtake him. Hopefully he doesn’t hold me up like in Monaco — but we’ll see. It’s a new day, like we didn’t expect to be as good today as we were and we’re on the clean side of the grid. I let (Sainz) have this one because I want to make it out of the track alive tonight. So we’ll do our best for tomorrow but the aim is just to get some good points for both myself and for Oscar.”
If Norris was surprised, polesitter Verstappen was merely satisfied to have matched his expectations.
“I mean, I am where I expected to be, going into this weekend,” Verstappen said. “And, to be honest, I also expected Carlos to be there. I just didn’t expect Lando to be there, but that’s a good surprise. Well, no, sorry — I didn’t expect McLaren to be there! I always expect Lando to be high up. The Alpine looks good but they have been lately improving quite a bit. So, for me, there are no real big shocks, I would say.”
Still, Verstappen’s own performance was one he was proud of, having been set to extend his half-second advantage before aborting his final run.
“The whole weekend it has been really enjoyable to drive the car, it was really hooked up. Of course you always try to find little improvements on the car but, yeah, it’s been really good. Qualifying started off a little bit tricky –you needed to be on the track at the right time, not making mistakes, but we did that.
“Going into Q3 I knew there was quite a bit of potential left in the car, so I could finally push it to the limit in that first run and the car was really quick. Then, of course, we went out again for the second run and that would have been even better. But, yeah, I think GP (Lambiese, race engineer) got a bit excited! He told me to abort.”