Lando Norris secures pole hours after McLaren’s team home catches fire

Lando Norris – Lando Norris fires himself on pole hours after McLaren's team home catches flames
Lando Norris produced a stunning final lap to outpace Max Verstappen by two hundredths of a second - Getty Images/Mark Sutton

This season was already heating up nicely, but it literally caught fire in Barcelona on Saturday with Lando Norris taking a sensational pole at the Spanish Grand Prix, just hours after his McLaren team home went up in flames and had to be evacuated.

Norris’ pole lap, which he described as “perfect” and the “best lap of my life”, continued the trend, seen in recent weeks, of teams beginning to put serious pressure on Red Bull. And it added to the growing feeling that this season could yet turn into a stunner.

Norris’ lap needed to be perfect. He only beat Red Bull’s world champion Max Verstappen by two hundredths of a second in the final reckoning, even without making any errors. But McLaren are now consistently on Red Bull’s pace. Behind those two teams, Ferrari have also shown they can win races, while Mercedes are beginning to cook too.

Lewis Hamilton will start third on the grid on Sunday, an excellent result for him personally at the end of what has been a difficult week, featuring claims that his team are trying to ‘sabotage’ his final season at Brackley. Hamilton’s team mate George Russell will start fourth. It is only the second time Hamilton has beaten Russell in 10 qualifying outings this season, and you got the feeling he really needed it. It was seriously tight between them, too, with Russell just two thousandths of a second slower.

For the moment, it is Norris who looks the most likely to take the fight to Verstappen. The Dutchman still enjoys a handsome 58pt lead in the title race. But he may have to defend it with his life if the top teams continue to converge.

Norris, who won his first ever Formula One race in Miami in May and could now be in line for a second, said he was just thrilled to be in the fight. Exhausted too. The second pole of the 24 year-old’s career - his first was a full three years ago in Sochi - came at the end of an extraordinary day for his team. A suspected electrical fire broke out in the McLaren paddock home around noon, and Norris did not even have time to put his shoes on before he was bundled out of the building along with the rest of McLaren’s guests and team members.

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at McLaren motor-home
Norris and fellow driver Oscar Piastri, as well as a host of staff and guests, were quickly evacuated as smoke emerged from the building - Getty Images/Manaure Quintero

Fire crews and ambulances were swiftly on the scene, but a few marshals had to receive medical treatment for smoke inhalation and one McLaren team member was hospitalised, though thankfully later discharged later following precautionary checks.

“It was a bit of a scare for the whole team,” admitted Norris, who was forced to commandeer McLaren chief executive Zak Brown’s office in the motorhome adjoining the team’s garage. “It was a bit more of a stressful day than I would have liked. I lost my shoes but that was as bad as it got for me honestly.

“I mean it’s all a little bit messy. I have one or two sets of everything and they managed to get some stuff out, some of it smells pretty bad from the fire. But I like to listen to my music and stuff. Oscar complains a lot because my music is so loud pre-sessions, but I just didn’t have that this time. I’m in the engineers’ office and Oscar is in the truck below. Zak’s office I’ve taken over so Zak’s a bit unhappy!”

It is not the first time Barcelona has witnessed a fire of course. In 2012, after Pastor Maldonado took an unlikely victory for Williams - the team’s first since 2004 - their entire garage burnt down just as Sir Frank Williams was giving a victory speech. Thankfully this one was far less serious.

It is going to be fascinating to see how the race pans out; whether Norris can hold on on the long run down to Turn 1, whether Red Bull “turn their car up” as Russell noted they are sometimes able to do. Russell was actually a little miffed during his first run in Q3 when he tried to get a tow off Esteban Ocon and then found Hamilton had slowed to go for the same wheel. “What the f--- was Lewis doing prepping that lap?” he asked his engineer Marcus Dudley.

Russell later said he had just been surprised to find Hamilton going for the same slipstream. “I was focused on my mirrors not to impede Ocon,” he said. “And next I looked up, Lewis was right in front of me trying to take the tow from Ocon. Obviously in the moment, when you’re trying to give it everything, you’re a bit hot headed. But nothing gained nothing lost. There’s nothing more to it.”

His loss of temper will no doubt fuel further conspiracy theories. This season hardly needs any more of that. We are beginning to cook on track now. “Let’s f------ go, baby,” screamed Norris as he was told he had snatched pole at the death. “Let’s go.”