If Lando Norris is having the best start to the season of his young career, Daniel Ricciardo is in trouble. During the Spanish Grand Prix this Sunday, the Briton will want to continue his good form while the Australian will try to raise his level.
The Briton has pace while the Australian skates. Lando Norris, for his third season with McLaren, made a sumptuous start to the year which resulted in his best points total after the first three races (37 points). Before the Spanish Grand Prix this Sunday in Barcelona, the young Englishman (21) even points to third place in the world championship, five lengths ahead of Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes). While he finished ninth with 97 points in 2020, just eight units from the sixth place gleaned by his ex-teammate, Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris seems to confirm the expectations placed on him. Still in the top 5 since the recovery in Bahrain (4e in Sakhir, 3e in Imola, 5e in Portimao), the native of Bristol leads his team with impressive ease while the expected leader is not yet there.
Daniel Ricciardo, who arrived in Woking after two years at Renault, is still struggling to make the most of his new single-seater. An experienced driver, with a daring and rhythmic drive, he still lacks a little precision to fully exploit the Mercedes engine which now occupies the English chassis. Even if he has never finished beyond the top 10 this season, it is obvious that the Australian is not yet fully at the maximum of his capacities, which we know to be very great, especially in the race. He had failed a bland 16e place in qualifying last weekend in Portimao, eliminated in Q1. Its talent as a “racer” but also the superiority of the McLaren, which really asserts itself as the third best car on the field, enabled it to climb back up nicely to ninth place. Even if when he crossed swords with cars of equivalent performance (Alonso on Alpine and Gasly at Alpha Tauri), Ricciardo was not dazzlingly calm.
The Italian threat
This diesel start-up is quite typical of the Australian. When he joined Renault in 2019 after his stint at Red Bull, he had experienced a few months of adaptation. Fourteen Grand Prix before finally obtaining a top 5 (4e at Monza), nearly six months after his first race with the diamond team. Keep in mind that the French car at the time was not as good as the McLaren is this year. It would not be surprising if Ricciardo landed his first top 5 before September. Maybe even this weekend in Catalonia. The first two free practice sessions this Friday were not flattering, however, as he finished them on the 14th and 15th.e square.
While waiting for Ricciardo to drive up to his potential, McLaren can therefore count on Norris to garner valuable points in the constructor championship, especially against their main competitor for third place: Ferrari. Fortunately for the British, the Italians suffer a little the same problem of adaptation with Carlos Sainz, while Charles Leclerc carries the prancing horse. With eleven points ahead of the Scuderia, the big points won by Lando Norris are crucial for the moment. The Englishman is closely followed by the Monegasque who has never finished more than two places behind him so far this season. Sainz’s fine performances last Sunday in Portugal, weighed down by Ferrari’s strategy, could scare Ricciardo, who would rather be better off quickly taking control of his machine. On pain of observing from afar a two against one for third place.