Lando Norris has praised his new team mate, rookie driver Oscar Piastri, for keeping him on his toes in 2023 by applying some peer pressure and not letting him take his foot off the gas for a second.
It’s the first season since he made his F1 debut in Australia in 2019 that 23-year-old Norris has been the team’s senior driver, having initially raced alongside Carlos Sainz and then with Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo never seemed able to properly settle at McLaren and left a year earlier than planned at the end of last season, opening the door for 2021 Formula 2 champion Piastri to take the seat.
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Neither Norris nor Piastri were able to finish in the top ten in the first outings in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but they benefitted from a chaotic late restart in Australia to record a welcome double points success.
Norris was sixth at the chequered flag, while Piastri became the first of this year’s rookie drivers to secure a top ten finish in P8.
Afterwards, Norris was full of praise for Piastri, who is only a year younger than himself. “I feel so weird talking like I’m the older guy, the more experienced one!” he said. “He’s doing a very good job, honestly.”
The team has struggled in the opening races after the development of the new MCL60 failed to live up to initial expectations. But the last result has boosted the squad back into fifth place in the constructors standings at a stroke.
“I think he’s understood the car well, it’s obviously not an easy car to drive,” Norris said when asked for a first appraisal of Piastri. “He did a very good job in Saudi. He got into Q3, the only Q3 [for McLaren] this year so far.
“So he’s keeping me on my toes,” admitted Norris, already a veteran of 85 F1 races which have included six podium appearances (including second place in Monza in 2021) and one pole position.
Piastri said that the team was benefitting from a better harmony between the two drivers, compared with last year when Ricciardo was unable to get to grips with the McLaren.
“Our comments are probably a little bit more in line than what they have been in previous years,” Norris acknowledged. “Which again, is a good thing.
“We kind of want the same anything in general,” he explained. “It’s a better dynamic for keeping the focus for the engineers, the aerodynamicists, the rest of the team back in MTC [the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking.]
“From both sides – the off-track and the on-track – it’s a good start and he’s keeping me on my toes,” he reiterated.
Andrea Stella – who took over from Andreas Seidl as McLaren team principal over the winter when his predecessor departed for a new role at Sauber – concurred with Norris’ assessment of the new boy.
“I would say this year the closeness between the two drivers is certainly much better than what we saw last year,” he said.
“Certainly what we see is that Oscar is close to Lando in most of the corners,” Stella noted when reviewing Piastri’s most recent race weekend performance at Melbourne’s Albert Park Circuit.
“He lost a couple of tenths in a single corner, which gives references to Lando himself,” he revealed. “When your team-mate is so competitive, then he becomes a reference for you, and you take advantage like Lando is doing.”
After a hectic start to the season, Piastri himself is pleased to have a few weeks to catch his breath with F1 on a ‘spring break’ as a result of the Chinese Grand Prix being cancelled due to concerns about COVID in the country.
With no replacement for this weekend’s aborted event, it means nearly four weeks of downtime for the teams and drivers between Australia and the next race in Baku, a rest which Piastri welcomed.
“It’s a nice opportunity to look back at the first three races of my F1 career for me and digest what went well, what went not so well,” he said.
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“Obviously you want to keep that momentum going well, and it’s a chance to reset if you’re not,” he commented. “I think we’ll use it to our advantage.
“[It’s] a bit of a reset for the rest of the year, so think it’ll be nice for everyone,” he added.
The team will use the break to work on upgrades for Baku which Piastri says should see the team “move closer to the front of the grid”.
“What we’ve got coming back to is a good step in what is, you know, a little bit of a good plan throughout the rest of the season,” he noted. “So it’ll help a bit definitely and get us on the right track.”
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