McLaren driver Lando Norris reckons rival team Alpine has done a “pretty bad job” to “only just be ahead of us” in the Formula 1 constructors’ championship.
Alpine is 24 points clear of McLaren in the fight for fourth in the teams’ standing and has not been outscored by its rival since the Monaco Grand Prix at the end of May.
The Renault works team has scored double McLaren’s points in that time, aided by both its drivers Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon being almost ever-present in the top 10 while only Norris has regularly scored for McLaren.
Over the course of the season Alpine holds a narrow qualifying advantage over McLaren, which is 0.131% further from the ultimate pace – although this shrinks to almost nothing when only dry sessions are compared.
But Norris thinks Alpine has had higher peaks and greater consistency than McLaren, only to be let down by other weaknesses, which is why the team has only recently started to strengthen its grip on fourth place.
“Alpine have been ahead of us pretty much since day one of the season,” said Norris.
“Like, genuinely have been ahead of us. There’s maybe three or four races this season where we might just have been a little bit quicker than them.
“Otherwise through the majority and quite easily the majority, they’ve been a better car.
“So, for them to only just be ahead of us in the championship is more we’ve done a very good job, and they’ve done a pretty bad job.
“When you see the margins of qualifying from them to us sometimes, their pace in the race compared to us sometimes, it’s never that much the opposite way round.
“They have a better car, they’ve just done a worse job throughout the season and made more mistakes, things like that – had more problems with the car, whatever.
“Fernando in Australia was on for what, P2 or P3 in qualifying? And we were miles away. So they’ve had a better car, pretty much all season.
“We’ve done a better job with the car that we’ve had this year. Now they’re just ironing out a few more of their problems and issues and maybe also improved the car a bit more than we have and taken a few more steps.”
Alpine’s wastefulness is something Alonso has regularly highlighted this season and he claimed again on Thursday that reliability problems have cost him around 40-50 points.
But Alpine has definitely produced a quicker and more consistent car than McLaren, and been aggressive with the number of upgrades it has whereas McLaren focused on two major packages and then minor developments at other races.
Alpine seems to have been more effective with its developments and its reward is set to be a best championship finish since 2018.
Leapfrogging McLaren in the midfield is a significant achievement for Alpine given McLaren has finished in the top four for the past three seasons, while Alpine lost its way.
And this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix could prove a striking example of Alpine’s progress relative to last season and McLaren’s regression, given Monza was the scene of a shock McLaren one-two in 2021.
“In general, we’re not as competitive compared to last season,” said Norris, who has played down even fighting for a podium this weekend.
“Also, everyone else has taken some good steps forward, such as Alpine.
“Competition’s tough at the minute. Ferrari are a long way ahead of us as well. So it’s an extra two cars which we have to get out of the way if we want to be back on the podium.
“I don’t know, I think we’ll still try and give it our all. I think we don’t come into races thinking ‘this is where we were last year, we should do exactly the same’.
“Zandvoort I personally think was a lot better for us this year than it was last year. So some things are definitely better.
“But it’s obvious, we’ve not had as many podiums and good qualifyings as last year.
“That’s just simply because the car as a balance throughout the season has not been as good.”