McLaren buoyed by strong start to F1 2021 at pre-season testing, as they catch Lewis Hamilton’s eye

Lando Norris insists McLaren’s pre-season test wasn’t “perfect” but admits the iconic Formula 1 team are heading into 2021 with even more confidence than last year after an encouraging three days in Bahrain.

Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, stated that “it’s great to see McLaren looking strong” – with the testing form hinting they have not just built on third place last year, but also may have closed in on Mercedes and Red Bull.

  • F1 Testing verdict: Red Bull finally set to take on Mercedes?

McLaren, coming off the back of their best F1 campaign since 2012 (Hamilton’s last season with the team) in 2020, were wary of being overtaken by their rivals over the winter, having largely concentrated their off-season work on integrating a new Mercedes engine.

But while they weren’t particularly high on the final timesheets, McLaren – who topped two of the three morning sessions – enjoyed a smooth and inconspicuously fast test to suggest they are the midfield team to beat once the season begins on March 28 at the same Bahrain circuit.

“It’s difficult to know what everyone’s doing but we can be confident, we have a decent car,” said Norris, the 20-year-old British driver. “We have things to work on for sure, not everything’s perfect, but I’m happy and excited to get started.”

He then told Sky F1: “I think it’s gone well. I want to say we’re maybe a little more confident than we were last year.

“In terms of starting off with a good step and on the right foot, I think we’ve managed to do that and we have some good things to work on when we come back in two weeks.”

‘McLaren think they’re close’

McLaren also turned heads with an innovative new diffuser design at testing, where the new MCL35M showed promising pace, particularly on the long runs, compared to F1’s expected title-challengers.

“They don’t imagine they’re faster than Red Bull or Mercedes, but they think they’re close – much closer than previous seasons,” said Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz, who stated that McLaren were “sitting pretty”.

Speaking about seven-time world champions Mercedes and their struggle to start F1 2021, Norris admitted that the car looked “nothing special” and said the team didn’t look “quite as comfortable”.

But he added: “Everyone knows they’re going to be quick”.

McLaren catch Hamilton’s eye in Bahrain

Hamilton, the seven-time champion and former McLaren driver, certainly didn’t enjoy his usual start to the season with Mercedes suffering reliability issues as well as a lack of balance in their W12 car, highlighted by two uncharacteristic spins for Hamilton over the three days of testing.

It looks as though Mercedes’ rivals might be closing in, and Hamilton highlighted McLaren’s performance when addressing the media on Sunday afternoon.

“Without doubt it is quite impressive to see the speed of some of the other teams,” said Hamilton.

“Red Bull are looking particularly strong, and it’s great to see McLaren also looking strong, also Alpine. I’m excited as that means more fun.”

Norris has been joined at McLaren by seven-time F1 race-winner Daniel Ricciardo for 2021.

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