McLaren was able to retain its position as the midfield leader from 2020 during the opening race weekend in Bahrain last month as Norris finished fourth, only trailing Mercedes and Red Bull cars.
But Friday’s practice running at Imola saw Ferrari take a big step forward compared to its showing in Bahrain as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr finished both sessions in the top six.
Sainz ended FP2 as the lead Ferrari in fourth place behind both Mercedes cars and the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly, with team-mate Leclerc just behind in fifth despite a late crash.
By comparison, Norris could only finish the day eighth for McLaren, lapping over six-tenths slower than former team-mate Sainz.
The leap forward by Ferrari did not come as any surprise to Norris, though, who said the signs of its true pace were already apparent in Bahrain.
“In Bahrain they were definitely quicker than us in the majority of corners – not all of them – but here they look very quick,” Norris told Sky Sports.
“I don’t think it’s something we didn’t expect. Maybe they’re a bit quicker than we expected, but we knew some races they’d be ahead and some races we’d be ahead.
“It’s Ferrari, if there’s one team at the moment that’s going to make a big improvement somewhere it’s them.
“So it’s not a surprise. Maybe that little bit faster than we anticipated, but not a shock.”
Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Norris led McLaren’s efforts through second practice at Imola as team-mate Daniel Ricciardo finished 18th in the FP2 standings.
Norris felt the McLaren MCL35M was not adjusting to the demands of the Imola track as swiftly as it did in Bahrain three weeks ago, saying the team “haven’t got the car in a great place just yet”.
“It’s not settled down to this track as easily as it did to Bahrain,” Norris explained.
“It’s a little bit harder, but it’s kind of what we expected from what we knew from last year. We struggled a little bit more here comparing to Bahrain too, but just some tracks the car goes better on.
“This is one of the ones we knew was going to be a bit tougher for us. But we made some good improvements from FP1 to FP2 so hopefully into tomorrow we can make another little step.”