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McLaren’s Lando Norris says he won’t shy away from bringing the fight to championship leader Max Verstappen during sprint qualifying on Saturday, a race to determine the grid ahead of the Italian Grand Prix.
Norris will be starting fourth on Saturday afternoon, after finishing half a tenth behind Verstappen during Friday’s session, as the Dutchman used a tow from team-mate Sergio Perez to bring the fight to the two Mercedes, despite struggling in free practice.
But Norris believes the McLaren has been stronger than the Red Bull this weekend, and won’t hold back when it comes to battling it out for position.
“I think we just need to stay where we are, [but] if we can have an opportunity to maybe overtake Max, because I think we may be a bit closer to him,” Norris said on Friday evening.
“Mercedes is a long way down the road, so I don’t feel like we’re really racing them, but we could have a chance to race against the Red Bulls.
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“We’re ahead of Perez and almost had Max. We’re waiting to see, I’m not sure, we have to look at our high fuel pace and go from there.”
Both Norris and his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo impressed in Friday’s session, with both cars starting the sprint qualifying session inside the top five.
But Norris believes he had the pace to out-qualify the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, but made a crucial error in Q3.
“I think I kind of had him in Q1 and Q2. I thought there was a couple places I can make some improvements, which I did,” Norris explained.
“But on my final lap I made the biggest mistake of my quali and I just messed up the apex of the second chicane. I lost a tenth, and a tenth would have been P3. [But] I’m still happy.”
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Verstappen currently leads the championship by three points over Lewis Hamilton in the battle for the title, with points awarded for the top three finishers in the sprint qualifying.
And with stakes high for Verstappen, Norris knows the Dutchman will see the two McLaren’s as a serious concern behind.
“He sees me as a threat so he wants to take me out of the race nice and early,” joked Norris.
“He doesn’t want me to hurt his chances, but I’m here to race. I’m here to race him, even if he’s going for the championship.
“But the Red Bull is still obviously a quicker car, more driveable, more raceable when you have the high fuel, the tyre degradation, and so on.
“When it’s just qualifying on new tyres, that’s when it comes to us a little bit. So yeah, it can be positive and we can look forward to [Sprint Qualifying].
“I’ll still be going for it, I’m trying to get past and go forward. But again, I’ve got to pick my battles wisely.”
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