With McLaren locked in a tight battle behind Red Bull with Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin, grid positions have become increasingly critical in deciding the outcome on race day.

Norris has confessed that qualifying is the area of a race weekend that he isn’t especially happy with, and suggested the need for a change of approach to help McLaren hit its targets in 2024.

Having felt that he was on top of things with the previous generation of cars that were replaced by the current breed of ground effect machines and bigger tyres in 2022, Norris says he’s found it more difficult to deliver his full potential in qualifying.

Whereas before he could go into full attack mode to extract peak performance over a single lap, Norris finds that being so bold now results in the car getting loose and shedding laptime.

Speaking ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix about the issues he is facing, Norris said: “In qualifying, I’ve always been wanting to push quite a bit more in certain areas and kind of want to go out and just be attacking. And I have to do the complete opposite.

“It’s a hard one to get my head around because I want to go out and find another level in qualifying, and you just can’t do that with these tyres and with our car. You almost have to drive it the opposite way.

“So there’s something, almost from being used to the cars a few years ago, that’s kind of punishing me now and not adapting quick enough. But that’s something that’s up to me.

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

“That’s my job to adapt and to do a better job on, but also just with how our car is, how you have to drive it, it continues to be quite a tricky car to drive.

“To execute a perfect qualifying lap every single time, it’s not an easy thing to do. But it’s something we’re working on.”

Norris is no stranger to having qualifying troubles, especially when some wild moments in Q3 laps – like in Abu Dhabi last year – hurt his chances of securing better grid spots.

He says the issues now are more related to the feeling that he needs from the car to understand where its limit is – which isn’t made easy by the fact so much comes from instinct.

“If you ask me now, ‘how do I drive a low-speed corner’, I’ve got no idea, I don’t,” he said.

“One day it’s like this; the next day it is like that. I struggle with just the confidence of knowing exactly how to improve in all cases.

“When it does click, it clicks, and I can have a good quali. But yeah, I just lost a little bit of that feeling over the last couple of years of going out in quali and attacking and putting in the laps that I want to put in.

“It’s hard to make myself not push and not be attacking when you’re competitive and you want to go for a better lap.”

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Erik Junius

Last year, McLaren team principal Andrea Stella suggested that a lot of Norris’s qualifying problems could be helped by a change of mindset in not attacking at 100% all the time.

But Norris thinks that things are not quite as simple as that, as different circumstances require different approaches.

“It’s like I can’t even drive at 100%,” he said. “100% works one lap in 10.

“So, when you want to go into Q3 and put your best lap on, it might be that one lap you have to drive at 98% all of a sudden. It’s just a complicated thing, and difficult to be on the limit.

“Depending on a couple kilometres an hour wind, or the tyres being a bit hotter or a bit colder, it changes how much you’re able to push in every single corner. So, you have to think of these things.

“Like, okay, the winds changed this little amount, it means I have to brake one metre earlier and you have to do this. And it isn’t an easy thing to be on top of all the time.

“It’s stuff I’m working on, stuff I’ve improved a bit over the last couple of weeks. Last weekend [in Australia] was a bit more of the indication, the first indication of, okay, when it clicks, this is what we can kind of do.”

Norris has devoted some time in recent simulator sessions to addressing the qualifying issues but says that the factory environment is not ideal for offering a repeat of the emotional pressures that are present in real life qualifying.

“It’s tough, because not always is it the best correlation,” added Norris.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

“There are certain techniques and abilities of trying to drive relaxed. Those are the kind of things you can do on the simulator.

“But recreating that exact emotion of when you’re in the car, and you’re going for a quali lap, it’s not easy to replicate such a thing on a simulator.”

Ultimately, Norris says that there is likely no magic bullet solution to his situation. He accepts that perhaps a few mistakes along the way, and a bit less obsessive thinking over it, are what is needed before he finally achieves what he wants.

“A bit of it is trial and error, of just trying to make it a normality,” he said. “The thing is when I drive, I drive so subconsciously, that the less I think of driving, the better I drive.

“If I just go out, and I’m watching the grandstands, this is normally when I’m doing a better job. But I’m naturally just going out and pushing.

“So, when you have to try and change your subconscious and try and just chill, it’s not an easy thing to change. That’s something that just gets developed over the years. And it’s not easy to just revert on.

“It’s just drifted away from me probably over the last year and a bit: the older regulation, it was easier to drive and to find the limit.

“Every day is a new day, there’s always new challenges and new issues. But that’s part of it; it’s the same for everyone. I just think that at times it’s been tricky with our car.

“But my job as a driver is to do the best I can on adapting to it myself as well.”