Why Lando Norris entrusted his future to McLaren RaceFans
Lando Norris came of age at the start of his third Formula 1 season.
The McLaren driver ended 2020 with an assured conquest of fifth place in Yas Marina, leading the midfielder behind the untouchables Mercedes and Red Bulls. He wore this shape in the new season in style.
In Bahrain, Imola and Algarve, he made sure his MCL35M was the first home midfielder car. And thanks to McLaren’s off-season gains, these top two teams are considerably closer than before; enough that Norris often took points off his cars.
As Carlos Sainz Jnr left McLaren for Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo arrived in his place, Norris has been his team’s constant. What better time, then, to sign a new multi-year contract?
Speaking to RaceFans and selected media outlets in Monaco, where the team looked resplendent in a unique livery celebrating sponsor Gulf, Norris explained why he had promised his future to the team that brought him to Formula 1.
“It’s a combination of a few things we’ve done over the past two years,” said the 21-year-old. “But also things that we have to come in the future.”
The team that took a driver to the world championship in 2008 is investing in a major upgrade of its facilities.
“Having our own wind tunnel is one of the most important things,” says Norris. “As it will make their life in the factory easier, the guys and girls who have to travel to Germany every time and go to the wind tunnel.” They have to spend the isolation there for three weeks, then come back, the isolation again, so the time that we waste a lot of time compared to the other teams who are able to do it much faster.
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This investment is just one part of the changes McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown and team principal Andreas Seidl have planned to bring the team back to center stage. Like many of their rivals, the team have an eye on the new technical regulations that will arrive for the 2022 F1 season and the opportunity they offer to significantly narrow the gap with dominant reigning champions Mercedes and challengers. Red Bull.
“I think what we have now takes a few more years to settle down and come together for the next few years,” Norris said.
“In 2022, everything changes. I think we’ve had these rules for a few years now, when we were way behind with these rules. We have caught up with these rules a lot. And the fact that we managed to catch up as much as we did was pretty good.
“But then, in 2022, everything is different. So I am convinced that we can start off on a much better footing, I would like to say, in the best possible way.
“You always know Mercedes and Red Bull are going to be fast starting next year. But if we can start much closer, we can always progress from there. “
Having started 2021 so strong, Norris could have been forgiven for thinking he had a chance to grab the attention of one of the better teams. But he says he would be reluctant to leave the team that brought him to Formula 1 if such an opportunity presented itself.
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“I owe the team a lot for giving me the opportunity to be here and everything. Already doing the FP1 and the season tests that I did in 2017, I think a lot of that has prepared me very well to enter Formula 1 in a good way.
“They helped me a lot. I participated in many races the previous year with them. I went to a lot of races with them just to get to know the engineers, work with them a lot and so on.
“They’re the reason I’m in Formula 1 now, so I owe them a lot, I have a lot of loyalty to them. And I think loyalty is one of the most important things in terms of respect between us and the teams, so it certainly wouldn’t be an easy decision.
Norris’ new contract is a milestone in his career – the moment he moves from being a newcomer to the sport to one who has proven he has earned his place in the top flight. He feels more assured of his place in F1.
“It’s still pretty early, still third year,” says Norris. “But I feel a lot more like my own driver than just a Formula 1 driver.
“I feel a lot more like I know what I want to learn and what I want to aim for and what to do. I know what I need around me to make sure I’m in the best mindset, the best position possible to do the job I need to do.
“I’m just a lot more of a pilot who knows what he needs in his life to enjoy it, perform at the best possible level, prepare at the best possible level and then you put it all together, and I guess that’s the driver that I am now.
Since Lewis Hamilton, McLaren hasn’t brought a new driver into the sport that impressed the way Norris did it. But he’s typically modest about his chances of becoming the team’s next world champion.
“You never stop learning, you never stop improving yourself,” he recalls. “In many ways. I’m still at the start, I would say.
“You got like Daniel or Lewis, who is an amazing driver, but he always says he makes mistakes and always learns and gets better and more and so on. So I have a long way to go. to go until I’m at this point.
“But me compared to the rider I was a few years ago, I’m just a much more complete rider.”
Hence the increasingly impressive performances which had already earned him his first podium of the year at the time of our interview. A second followed a few days later in the streets of Monaco. It’s hard to imagine that there won’t be more to follow.
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