While Mercedes and Red Bull comfortably finished first and second in this year’s standings, McLaren and Ferrari both made considerable steps forward to cut the gap to the front of the field.
McLaren scored a 1-2 finish at Monza, while Ferrari picked up five podiums and two poles across the year as the fight for third in the constructors’ went to the final race of the season.
A strong end to the year ultimately gave Ferrari P3 by 47.5 points in the final standings, but both teams felt the fight had helped sharpen them for potential future battle further up the grid.
“I would say it has helped quite a bit,” said McLaren driver Norris when asked by Motorsport.com about the benefits of the battle against Ferrari.
“Just being with that mentality, them keeping us on our toes, keeping us pushing, trying to find these smallest bits of lap time.
“It is easy at times to get complacent and take your mind off of it, especially if you are on your own, the third-quickest car with nobody ahead or behind you.
“There are ways to fall into that trap, so I think it has been good for us. The same for them - not an easy year for them, so I think it has benefitted both of us.”
Norris said he believed McLaren had enjoyed a “much better season” despite slipping from third to fourth in the teams’ standings. McLaren scored 275 points this season, compared to 202 in 2020.
“I would say it has been a tough season and I still believe we’ve had a much better season than we did last year,” said Norris.
“We are closer to the front, and the gap to the rest is also much bigger, apart from Ferrari. It has still been a very good season, and not just in terms of results and points, but also how we worked together as a team and how we maximised things.
“I think we are in a better position for next year when we are going to racing them more often and hopefully the guys at the front more often too.”
Both McLaren and Ferrari are hoping to take advantage of the incoming overhaul of the technical regulations in 2022 to take another step forward that would allow them to challenge the front-running teams.
Ferrari sporting director Laurent Mekies agreed that the fight with McLaren had helped the team work on its operations and race executions, calling it “our world championship for this year”.
“We really focused on how we can use this year to become sharper and to develop as a race team and to develop our tools and so on,” Mekies said.
“It’s a very good team to fight against. They’ve had some fantastic moments, they won Monza, they could have won Sochi. They are very, very competitive. They are also in a very good dynamic themselves.
“So it was a good challenge. And yes, it’s a challenge where you need to make fewer mistakes than them. You need to put more of these small details together if you want to beat them.
“It is ultimately the same thing that is happening for the top two positions. It’s the same dynamic. The points loss costs you the same, and therefore, it was a good, it is a good training for that for the team.”