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McLaren drivers reckon they had pace for second row amid tight Bahrain F1 grid

McLaren's Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri feel they had the pace to qualify on the front two rows of Formula 1's Bahrain Grand Prix with tidier Q3 laps.

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team, in Parc Ferme after Qualifying

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Norris and Piastri showed strong one-lap pace amid an extremely tight qualifying battle behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

But both drivers struggled to get their best laps together in Q3, which shuffled them down to seventh and eighth respectively. With such slim margins as the 2024 season gets under way, any such qualifying mistakes are proving extra costly.

"It was tricky," Norris replied when asked by Autosport about his compromised Q3 lap, which was still only 0.435s behind polesitter Verstappen and just two tenths off second-placed Charles Leclerc.

"Maybe the wind changed that little bit. In Q3 when you're pushing that little bit more and things change the tiniest bit it can make a big difference, which it did for me.

"A lot of potential and the car was feeling great all through qualifying, so I was very happy. I was putting in some good laps, my worst one was my final one which is normally not how you want it to go. But the potential was there.

"If I just put my reasonable lap in and just didn't make a mistake, but it wasn't an insane Iap, I still believe that we probably should have been second or third. For us to have that is pretty positive."

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38 and Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38 in the pit lane

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38 and Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38 in the pit lane

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Piastri said he also had a more difficult day than anticipated, but pointed out McLaren can't be too dejected given the vast improvements it has made since last year's Bahrain opener.

"For me a bit of a trickier day with the car," the Australian commented. "I felt my last lap in Q3 came together a bit more, but it's still not the most comfortable day in the car.

"But I think the fact that I've had one of those qualifying sessions and two tenths would put me third, that's a pretty decent place to start the year off, I would say. We're certainly happier than we were 12 months ago."

On race pace McLaren also expects to be competitive with the pack around it, which includes Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin, although some of the MCL38's weaknesses appear more pronounced on high fuel loads.

But the prospect of drivers being stuck in DRS trains, given the minimal pace differences between teams, will make strategy and tyre management perhaps more crucial than outright speed.

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"Qualifying has proven that the pace difference between a lot of cars is very small and I don't expect that to change massively in the race," Piastri opined.

"Making progress is not going to be easy. I think that's going to be true all the way up to the front, apart from Red Bull; I think they'll be stronger in the race than they normally are.

"We can make progress, this is a track you can overtake on and strategy is very big element. We're definitely in the mix."

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