An elated Lando Norris jumped out of the MCL35, ran over towards his team and embraced boss Zac Brown. A maiden podium for the Englishman and a second in three races for McLaren. It was a brilliant moment.
Although no fans were present to take in a spectacular season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, won by Valtteri Bottas, McLaren continue to make positive strides after a number of disappointing campaigns.
The Woking outfit have climbed from ninth, sixth and fourth in the constructors’ championship since 2017, and Norris’s stunning result at the Red Bull Ring maintains this upward trajectory.
The 20-year-old crossed the line in fourth, however, a stunning final lap saw him leapfrog Lewis Hamilton into third after the world champion picked up a five-second penalty for contact with Alex Albon 10 laps earlier.
Pulling out the fastest lap of the race – finishing within 4.8 secs of Hamilton – was enough to clinch a first podium in his short 22-race career.
Of course, strategy and the safety cars did play into his hands during the race, but the Guildford man showed excellent racecraft to surge past Sergio Perez late on and set a stunning quali-esque fastest, final lap.
It is now McLaren’s second podium in three races, with Carlos Sainz having ended a barren run of five years without a top-three finish at the Brazilian GP in November.
Excellent defensive driving and a mix of aggression, McLaren have a strong foundation to build on their fourth-place finish from 2019 – their strongest showing since 2012.
The driver pairing of Sainz and Norris have struck up a great friendship, yet there could be extra spice in it this campaign.
Norris nipped at the heels of Sainz last term, shading the qualifying head-to-head (11-10). However, the Spaniard finished 47 points and five places (6th) ahead of the Briton in the drivers’ championship.
With Sainz joining Ferrari for 2021, Norris will be determined to push his teammate even further over the coming months.
Achieving more formidable results against the imminent Scuderia man is the platform Norris needs to showcase his glittering potential.
It is encouraging times ahead, nevertheless, as Daniel Ricciardo’s impending switch to McLaren next year makes for the most exciting driver line-up on the grid.
The Australian is a top notch driver, with aggression and a sheer appetite for victory. His experience will unearth the best from a rising star 11 years his junior.
Rekindling the flame with Mercedes engines brings back one of F1’s iconic partnerships, which yielded huge success in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Behind the big three, the improving MCL35 is more stable, quick and attacks the corners to perfection in comparison to previous seasons.
With no change in the regulations for 2020, the battle for midfield supremacy is expected to be even closer, with the new-look Racing Point particularly strong.
Confident to continue an upward trend, McLaren are trying to discover the right balance and maintain their position at the head of the midfield.
A return to the front of the grid may well be achievable in the future, but for now, they need to turn their focus to the year ahead and try to extract the most from the MCL35.
With young Norris showing his class and Sainz keen to impress ahead of his Scuderia switch, Brown certainly has two charging drivers purring with dominance.
Consistent results and another podium could make for another promising season.