Norris expected to be ‘nowhere near the top three’ at the Chinese GP

Lando Norris says his second-place finish at the Chinese Grand Prix was such a surprise because he expected to be “nowhere near the top three” based on the sprint.

McLaren struggled with race pace compared to Red Bull and Ferrari in the sprint, with Norris losing the lead at the start of the race and dropping to seventh, eventually finishing sixth. As a result, he thought fifth place was McLaren’s likely best finish from his starting position of fourth behind the Red Bulls and Fernando Alonso, but he took out the Aston Martin early on and then used strategy to beat Sergio Perez into second place.

“A big improvement today compared to yesterday,” said Norris. “So I think that’s probably why we were a little bit surprised. I am surprised that I am sitting here today, but it is of course a nice surprise. Hard to say, we’ve struggled a bit all season – I’m sure everyone has – with certain things, which have always limited us.

“It probably felt the same as Australia. In Australia I felt comfortable and the car felt pretty good too. So today just much better, things came alive today, the conditions cooled down, the wind calmed down and both of those things, I think, played into our hands a little bit more.

“So that’s why yesterday, if you asked me ‘what do we expect for today?’, it certainly wasn’t close to the top three, or maybe even top five. A pleasant surprise. The car felt much better, but was clearly not fast enough to match the Red Bulls.”

Norris insists that there was no downplaying of expectations at McLaren, with the car simply performing better in certain areas and the race running smoother than in the sprint.

“We were just faster than we thought,” he said. “The restrictions, the places where we struggled, probably a lot more that didn’t bother us as much. So these longer turns, like Turn 1, have always been a big weakness for us. And part of Turn 1 was probably better than we expected. And like the second part, it was probably as we expected.

“So it’s just we’re still learning about the car. It’s that simple. This song is very different. The asphalt is quite strange. Maybe that played a more important role than we thought, maybe we would have had a little more trouble with the old asphalt. So just little things. We don’t make it up. We give our honest opinion about where we want to go.

“I think if we went into a weekend and we knew we were going to be strong, we would have said so. So more often than not we don’t feel that optimistic, because we’ve been behind Red Bull all year, we’ve been behind Ferrari all year, there’s no reason for us to suddenly think we have to be ahead.

“Nothing really indicated that we had a great race today, especially yesterday’s sprint race, which was our best version of events of what can happen. But things just went according to plan and from then on it was actually very smooth.

“I didn’t make a mistake in Turn 1 and went away, it’s a good start! And I got past the Aston and then you can just control the race. And that was very different from yesterday.”