In his rookie season Lando Norris has already started to impress, after having a difficult start it seems that he is settling into his McLaren seat rather nicely. In the last two races he has shown a maturity and comfort at the wheel which has brought him to the forefront of discussion surrounding Formula One.
After a rather disappointing French Grand Prix, without much excitement throughout the race, Norris found himself in a strong position for the majority it. However, it would not all go Norris’ way, losing three places in the final lap. It wasn’t that Norris drove badly at during the last lap of the Paul Ricard circuit, but rather due to a series of faults in the car. He dropped down from a hard fought seventh place to demotivating tenth as the two Renaults and Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo flew past. However, following an investigation by the stewards it was deemed that Ricciardo had gone off the track in order to overtake Norris and was given a five-place penalty resulting in Norris moving up to ninth. Austria was going to prove a real test to see how Norris could bounce back. Could this bring a cloud of uncertainty around Norris and the McLaren team, or will he rise up to the challenge and perform in Austria?
At the Austrian Gran Prix Lando Norris had a blistering start pulling himself alongside Lewis Hamilton and challenging him into the first corner and taking third position. Norris continued to compete for third until turn three where the dominance of Mercedes and Lewis’ experience and talent managed to pull him ahead. Perhaps the only criticism of Norris in this opening lap is that he didn’t know when he was beaten, further on in the opening lap Norris seemed to make a half attempt to overtake Hamilton on the inside, which had no real effect and resulted in him being overtaken by experienced head of Raikkonen.
On the other hand, when is a driver going to give up on an opportunity to challenge for third? And in fact, if they were to not compete for a podium place then they are clearing showing a lack of determination and fight. This moment showed us the confidence and hunger that Norris has, an encouraging sign for not only the rest of the season, but for the rest of his career. Without the fire and resolve to fight for every position and every point then world championships will be hard to achieve.
As the race progressed eventually the inevitable happened as Sebastian Vettel, in the much faster Ferrari, fought his way from his tenth place on the starting grid to overtake Norris. I think we all knew Vettel would work his way up the field following a qualifying session where he wasn’t even able to go out for a lap due to a technical fault with his car. There was not much Norris could have done to keep Vettel behind him and it was more a matter of time. But, once again Norris showed that fire and determination to fight for every position, challenging Vettel into turn four on the outside but unable to take his position back due to Vettel braking slightly later.
Once again, a much faster car came charging up behind him as the eventual winner of the grand prix, Max Verstappen, caught up with Norris and overtook him. Yet again, Norris did not make this easy, it took Verstappen several attempts to get ahead of Norris, eventually overtaking him on the inside of turn three. Throughout the exchange between the two Norris placed his car in very smart defensive positions making it far harder for Verstappen to overtake him, in fact Max had to request more power in order to get ahead of Lando. Norris has showed race craft beyond his years during these moments and perhaps was only overtaken due to the superiority of the car.
Despite being overtaken twice by two far superior cars Norris kept a cool head and in lap 13 Norris made a dive down the inside of Raikkonen and managed to regain fifth place.
Not only did Norris show his potential in the opening lap, but later on he patiently awaited his opportunity to overtake Daniel Ricciardo in a near perfect manoeuvre, he then went on to keep Pierre Gasly at a safe distance behind him for the rest of the race, who was driving in the far superior car of the Red Bull.
Not only does Lando Norris have the talent to become a great driver, but he has the personality as well. You can see from his interactions on social media that he doesn’t take himself too seriously and there was a fantastic moment in the Austrian Grand Prix where he was asked to keep Riccairdo within the DRS distance behind him and he replied with, “what? Like forever?” I think in modern society we are far closer to sporting stars then we have ever been, and their personality has become increasingly important for their success. Popularity with the public has become increasingly important as sponsorship deals hang upon a sports person’s interactions with their fans. Just think of stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Conor McGregor, without their personality would they have the coverage, the sponsorships and the following that they have?
Although much of the attention will rightly be on another two young drivers in Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen following this weekend it is important to notice the outstanding performance from Norris. His hunger, determination and racing talent are very promising signs for the future and I have no doubt in my mind that these features along with his personality will see him rise up the rankings and earning himself a seat in a far more competitive car in the future.
I do, however, hope that Norris stays with McLaren for a few more years, a team which in the future may bring a competitive car to the grid themselves. I also think Carlos Sainz is the ideal teammate for Norris at the moment, also young at just 24 years old the Spaniard will have a very competitive season against Norris this year, with only eight points separating the two following the weekend. Let’s not forget that Sainz is clearly very talented and had a great race during the Austrian Grand Prix managing an incredible rise from qualifying in nineteenth to finishing only two places behind Norris in eighth. At such a young age having that competition and a challenging teammate are the best ways for young drivers to develop, just look at Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Being such a young prospect the next few years will be crucial to the development of Lando Norris and could potentially shape the rest of his career. Regardless, Norris is certainly an exciting driver and I will be keenly watching his progress over the next few years.