Lando Norris was kicking himself after a mistake in the first round of qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix resulted in contact with the inside wall of Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
The severity of the damage to the left right suspension and steering arm of the MCL60 was immediately apparent as Norris limped back to pit lane. “I damaged the steering, so yeah, enough,” he said when asked if it had been a heavy impact.
His fears were confirmed by the engineers, who didn’t have enough time left in Q1 to effect repairs to the car, meaning that Norris could’t improve on his initial time and duly missed the cut
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“It has been a bittersweet qualifying today in Jeddah,” noted team principal Andrea Stella. “On one side it’s a shame that Lando clipped the wall in Q1 and the steering arm broke, because otherwise he would certainly have been a contender for Q3.
Assuming that the car can be successfully fixed overnight, Norris will now start from the back row of the grid alongside Williams rookie Logan Sargeant, whose evening also finished in a close encounter with the barrier.
“It was a silly mistake I shouldn’t make, to be honest with you,” Norris told reporters in the paddock while qualifying continued for the rest of the field. “Paid the price very quickly. So frustrated.
“It’s disappointing because it cost me a chance to go into Q3 today,” he added. “I probably should have easily been into Q2, potentially Q3 and I let the team down today, so I’m annoyed.”
Now the question is whether he can salvage anything given he’s starting so far down the grid. “I don’t know yet, the potential is there,” he said. “I don’t know what to expect yet.
“The car has better pace I would say than we had in Bahrain, so I want to be a little bit more hopeful,” he continued. “But it’s probably a harder track to overtake on than Bahrain.
“The car was good and I was feeling comfortable out there. On the bright side it’s a long race tomorrow, with plenty of opportunities, so I look forward to that. Hopefully, I can make up for the mistake and we can try to fight our way forwards.”
“Lando will have his chance tomorrow in the race, as the car looks competitive, and races here can often be eventful,” Stella concurred.
There was better news for the team on the other side of the garage, with rookie driver Oscar Piastri successfully navigating his way through to the final top ten pole shoot-out round for the first time.
“Oscar did excellent work to get into the final part of qualifying,” said Stella. “He kept improving session-by-session through practice and run-by-run in qualifying where he put together clean laps and extracted the maximum from the car.”
The Australian will be lining up in eighth place on the grid just behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, much better than the team had been expecting given the poor performance of the new car so far this season.
“P8 on the grid!” he beamed. “It was nice to get into Q3. I’m super happy to be in the top ten and it was a good experience to do all three quali sessions.
“I think this result probably wasn’t that expected to be completely honest,” he admitted. “Our race pace we thought was actually better than our quali pace yesterday. We will see if that is true tomorrow, but we will try our best.”
From P8, ideally Piastri would stay in the top ten and secure his first points for his new team – but he admitted that it won’t be easy: “[Points] are definitely on offer, but it will be tricky.”
That’s because two top drivers who will be starting out of position behind Piastri – Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen – are expected to waste no time charging their way to the front and expecting to make short work of Piastri.
“Obviously our straight-line speed is not exactly our strength so we will see how that goes,” he conceded. “Confident to try and fight for the points.
“We’ll work hard to make the most of this position and bring home a positive result in the race tomorrow.”
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