Carlos Sainz believes McLaren is now “back in the mix” of Formula 1’s midfield fight following an encouraging display from the team in Australia.

While McLaren failed to score points at the Melbourne season-opener, rookie Lando Norris starred in qualifying to make it into Q3 and claim eighth spot on the starting grid. 

Norris’ effort gave McLaren its best qualifying result since 2014 and marked the first time since last year’s Monaco Grand Prix that a McLaren driver has made it into the top 10 segment, though the Briton was quick to play down expectations of regular Q3 appearances in 2019. 

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Sainz was eliminated in Q1 after encountering a power unit problem and being held up by Robert Kubica’s damaged Williams, but the Spaniard left Australia feeling positive about McLaren’s progress. 

“The team ended last year far from the midfield, like three or four tenths and it looks like we’ve put ourselves back in the mix after the winter, which shows the incredible job that the team and factory has done over winter testing,” Sainz said.

“After Barcelona [testing] we were not so sure that Q3 was possible but I think [Australia] has proved since the first laps in Q1. For me particularly in Q1 I felt that we maybe had a chance, maybe it’s happening, maybe we can get McLaren back to Q3. I think it’s since Monaco last year that it didn’t happen.  So it just shows the progress the team is making. 

“It doesn’t mean we are going to be in Q3 in Bahrain or China, it means that we have got ourselves back in the mix. And it’s now it’s a matter of nailing the laps, nailing the procedures, nailing the setups for each track because the midfield is as tight as always.” 

Sainz acknowledged McLaren still has “underlying issues” to address but feels there is great potential in the MCL34 - a stark contrast to the Woking squad’s predecessor, which was one of the worst cars on the 2018 grid. 

“I’m happy with the performance of the car,” he explained. “Let me say we still have issues to address, we still have underlying balance issues that we know that if improve we can make the car much faster. 

“That gives us confidence to know that if we put the development programme together this car could get even better, but we need to do it and that is the most difficult part in F1 - to identify the issues and bring the developments that cure the issues. 

“But I’m pretty confident the team knows where to go and this is just the start.” 

 

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