Saudi Arabia Grand Prix: Lando Norris hopes to overcome his ‘silly mistake’ in qualifying

The Jeddah Corniche circuit in Saudi Arabia is known as one of the tracks where drivers have to be on the spot due to the very small margin for error, and Saturday’s qualifying session saw a few close calls – and one driver who ended up on the wrong side of a “fault.”

Lando Norris headed into the final corner during Q1 and simply tapped the concrete wall with his left front tire. This connection broke his steering arm, disabling his steering and landing the ML60 in the garage for repairs. “It was pretty much done by the end of the session,” the McLaren driver said after qualifying, and if Norris’ time had been good enough to push him into Q2, he would have been ready.

That wasn’t the case, and Norris – one of the sport’s most respected young talents – will start P19 in Sunday’s race.

Although McLaren has admitted its car is not about to crash, Norris took full responsibility for what he called a “ridiculous mistake” on “probably one of the easiest corners on the track, in terms of judgment.” He’s a wide-angle, open left-hander, and Norris said there were “no excuses” for his “miscalculation”.

Despite starting on the back row of the grid, Norris said on Saturday he feels he can move up the field on the high-speed circuit, expressing that he is “confident we have a reasonable car”. It boils down to the ML60’s pace, which feels better in Saudi Arabia than it does in Bahrain. Norris’ teammate, rookie Oscar Piastri, reached the final round of qualifying on Saturday and will start P8.

However, the narrow restrictions on the Jeddah street circuit limit passing opportunities, and Norris said the ML60’s specifics may not help. Aerodynamic efficiency is one of the car’s biggest weaknesses. “The ratio between downforce and drag is not as high as we would like,” said team boss Andrea Stella on Saturday.

The Jeddah track is more dangerous than the Bahrain track, and Stella said the teams “rely less on aerodynamic load”. Tires tend to be sturdier on this circuit, which means cars have better traction, and this affects how effectively drivers maintain control through corners. There is still a promotion to come in Baku, which the team hopes will propel them towards their 2023 goal of finishing in the top four.

“It was just below expectations and just below our own goals,” Norris said in Saudi Arabia. “Easy like that.”

But his optimism remains, given how the track’s narrow nature tends to cause accidents, making virtual safety cars (and actual cars) a safe bet. These can rally the field, and it can be easier to get positions on restarts, perhaps more than one point. But these basically give teams an easier stopping point, but it all boils down to the right strategy.

In 2021, Norris was sixth before a safety car was posted for a wreck by Mick Schumacher. McLaren decided to pit him for fresh tyres, while his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, stayed out. But then the race is red flagged because the barrier needs to be fixed, giving Ricciardo and others the chance to pit for free because they can change tyres. Norris was on the wrong side of this, but it is an example of how drivers can benefit from the back of the grid. Chaos ensued for the remainder of the race.

“A repeat of 2021, I think it was, would be amazing,” Norris said Saturday. “But of course, you always need a little luck now and then.”

The team will be looking to post a better finish on Sunday than in Bahrain when Piastri retired early and Norris had to make several pit stops, both with various problems. Norris said the McLaren team remains “optimistic” about the season, as they “have set high goals because that’s what we want to achieve”.

(Photo: Eric Alonso/Getty Images)


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