Lando Norris shocked as he claims Lewis Hamilton and George Russell ‘underperformed’

Lando Norris qualified P5 for the French Grand Prix, ahead of George Russell.

Lando Norris was left “very surprised” after qualifying at the French Grand Prix, with the McLaren F1 Team’s new upgrades appearing to be working successfully at the Circuit Paul Ricard.

Remarkably, Norris managed to not only claim a fifth-place start for Sunday’s race, but also managed to split the Mercedes F1 Team duo.

Splitting the German team’s drivers was not something McLaren, nor Norris, were expecting; however, the British driver believes it was made possible by his final lap being “very good”.

“Very surprised, actually,” said Norris on splitting the Mercedes.

“I mean, after the pace in Q1 and Q2, I guess not as surprised. If you asked me before qualifying where do you think you would be, it definitely wouldn’t be competing with them.

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“Put it down to two things: one the car performing very well, and obviously working well. But also to it being a very good lap, and I would say there was probably one mistake, a little bit of wheelspin out of Turn 9.

“But apart from that it was a very strong lap from myself. So I think that was the thing which put us ahead of one of the Mercedes.”

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Unfortunately, it wasn’t a double-delight for McLaren, with Daniel Ricciardo being eliminated from qualifying in Q2.

The Australian came close to making it into the final part of qualifying, but had to settle for P11.

Despite this, Ricciardo will actually start in the top ten, due to Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen having penalties.

Norris was also unsure if he would make it out of Q2 prior to qualifying, with the Brit admitting that the team questioned whether to “talk about” the final part of Saturday “or not”.

“Before qualifying we were debating whether or not we should talk about Q3 or not!” he joked.

“We were discussing our run plans, how to use our tyres, and what strategy to choose, and things like that. So not that we would never want to get to Q3, but just how to choose the tyres for FP3 at the right time and things like that.

“We got into Q3 and were fighting around with Alpines and stuff like that, I think that was probably more our expectation.”

It was the Mercedes of George Russell that Norris managed to out-qualify, after the former Williams driver made a mistake on his final lap in Q3.

Sir Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, qualified fourth.

Despite the excitement of qualifying ahead of Russell, Norris still firmly believes that Mercedes are ahead, after Hamilton qualified three-tenths faster than the McLaren driver.

The 22-year-old is determined to try to battle the Mercedes pair on Sunday, but is unsure on whether he’ll be able to “keep up” with the W13’s usual strong pace during races.

“I guess I was still three-tenths behind the other [Mercedes], there’s no way I was going three-tenths quicker, if that makes sense,” Norris continued.

“So it shows they’re still ahead.

“But to have closed the gap as much as what we did, considering where we’ve been the last few weekends, and where they’ve been as well, I know they’re a little bit off the pace, it was definitely a surprise but a good one, like a rewarding surprise.

“So whether or not we’ll be able to keep up with them tomorrow in the race is another question, but for today, it was lovely to be ahead of one of them, at least.”

McLaren have brought a number of upgrades to the Circuit Paul Ricard, something which has seen the team improve across the weekend so far.

Ahead of the weekend, Norris expected to be “around Alpine”; however, the Brit was pleased to see that they were a “little chunk” ahead of the French side, who are currently level on points with them in the Constructors’ Championship.

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“I think with what I felt like the car could achieve this weekend, after bringing the new parts and putting them on in FP2, and realising that improved some things into today into FP3 and then from FP3 to quali, there was good potential, and definitely to be around Alpine,” the McLaren driver added.

“But to be a little chunk ahead of them and fighting Mercedes was definitely a lot more than I expected. I don’t think it was anything like overperforming, but we just performed extremely well today, and they probably underperformed, and I think maybe tomorrow they’ll just be a little bit ahead as usual.

“I would love to say we can fight them, and I’ll do my best to do that,” Norris concluded.