Lando Norris: Britain’s next world champion..?

Credit: Nathan Hine Lando Norris at the Mclaren Technology Centre, Woking after our round-table interview with the 18-year old

Like so many of us, Lando Norris started off dreaming Motorsport from an early age, being in awe of Valentino Rossi, he was given a bike at an early age, but following a crash on his 60 cc bike, as well as greater excitement in the direction of Formula One, pushed his career in that direction as well. But unlike so many boys, he is well on the way to living the dream, with Formula One not too far away at the tender age of 18 years old. Now after conquering the European F3 championship last season, and with a full Formula 2 campaign in-store this year, I was able to attend a round-table at the Mclaren Technology Centre in Woking to ask Lando about some of the true secrets behind the wheel that are so apparent, as F1 stardom surely awaits…

The story of Lando Norris begins with him playing on Gran Turismo 5 on the PS2 when he was just 4 or 5 years old. His virtual world beginnings into the racing world are commonplace, as after crashing his 60 cc bike quite badly when he was seven years old, he got a Bambio kart for his eighth birthday, which remained just a hobby for the next six years. Then, following a trip to the Clay Pigeon Racetrack, he had a go and knew then that he wanted to be a Formula 1 driver. This is a journey he is still on, but compared to that kid who crashed his motorbike, he has grown so much since then.

Following his karting success between 2006 (when he took pole position on debut) to 2014 when he was won the karting world championship, he progressed to cars, which has resulted in claiming championship success for three successive seasons: MSA Formula champion in 2015, Formula Renault 2.0 (Eurocup and NEC) and Toyota Racing Series championship titles in 2016, and the European F3 title last season makes him the most talked about British talent since Lewis Hamilton.

As part of Lando’s role as a Mclaren test and development driver involves simulator work for the team which provides good feedback in terms of getting a good grasp for how the car behaves, and how setup changes affects the balance of the car. However, one thing that Lando picked out was that the simulator ‘lacks G-force and the fear of crashing’ which, with many up-and-coming drivers increasingly getting their break from success in the virtual world is a concern to how aware they are that Motorsport is dangerous. This is always something that I have wondered about, but never been sure whether the sim gives you that sense of speed and how realistic it is from a danger point of view. But it also shows that no matter how good the simulators get, there is no replacement for getting out there yourself and going racing for real.

Also, he said that he is likely to do the in-season test in Hungary as well as the 2018 Pirelli tyre test for Mclaren, which should help him when he gets his F1 break to get more experience in this machinery. This should allow him to develop his consistency in F1 which he identified as his ‘main weakness’ compared to the top guys in F1 who can maintain the same pace lap after lap. And if a seat does not open up in 2019, but at the very least this should help him in his 2018 Formula 2 campaign.

Formula 2 is his main campaign for Lando in 2018, signing for Carlin Motorsports, who have carried him from MSA Formula in 2015, his partial BRDC F3 campaign in 2016 and to his European F3 championship success last season. But with them not competing in the F2 championship last season, Lando concedes that it will probably be a ‘tough start to the season’, although still reckons that he will be fighting for the title come Abu Dhabi, targeting a top 3 place in the standings. In which, he believes that Prema are probably the pre-season favourites after having the fastest car for the past two seasons, along with ART. Although, he still remains confident of being competitive this season alongside Sergio Sette-Camara, who will be in his second season of F2 competition.

The Daytona 24 hours, which will take place next weekend, is something completely different for Mr. Norris, and after a test where they were struggling for genuine pace, it could prove to be a character-building race for the team. Although from Lando’s point of view, will be absolutely vital in terms of helping his career advancement, as he will be able to work with Fernando Alonso and observe how he operates to motivate the team, drive consistently every lap to the same pace, and assess how he can take stock from the test to qually to the race- with his post-test report showing Alonso’s inner-racer as he hopes to help prepare the team for the big race next weekend. Although, he still remains optimistic and hopes to be in the fight despite the greater pace shown by Cadillac, ORECA and Penske during the test.

With only a single Brit in F1 at the moment, there is much attention to those looking to make the break into F1, with Lando shining brighter than the rest following his consistent championship-winning form recently. And his humble and grounded attitude will serve him well as he grinds away in F2 this year in a bid to get to F1 soon. He is a very knowing driver, always wanting to better himself, saying that his ideal team-mate would be ‘someone like Alonso’ ,with him not necessarily looking at the performance of himself in year one, but come year two, year three etc, working with someone of Fernando’s calibre will make him a much better driver.

As a sport though, Lando assesses the racing in F1 to be ‘boring compared to other categories’ with races like Abu Dhabi an all too common affair, with Baku-style races only happening once in a blue moon. This is something that resonates well with the fans of the sport, although concedes that the position of the sport is better compared to what it was under Bernie.

So, Lando Norris is one of the most humbled and down-to-earth guys racing has to offer, and with his recent domination in the lower formula will be a household name before too long, with Lewis’s reign will surely be over soon. A truly remarkable story of a truly amazing guy, but could he be Britain’s new world champion? Will he join the likes of Leclerc and Verstappen as the new leading lights of F1 in the not too distant future? Time will tell…

Recent NCTJ graduate and freelance journalist for The Indiependent, Naked Politics and Motorsport Radio.