Lando Norris, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2019

2019 F1 driver rankings #8: Lando Norris

2019 F1 season review

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Which Formula 1 driver gives the most uncompromisingly tough verdict on their efforts after a sub-par performance? It has to be a close contest between Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris.

But while Norris’s debut campaign was not without areas for improvement, he got an awful lot more right than wrong.

Norris was quick to justify the hype which followed his junior career by sticking his McLaren eighth on the grid first time out in Melbourne. This set a trend for consistently strong qualifying performances: While team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr was the top points-scorer in the midfield, Norris was the best qualifier.

While this wasn’t always reflected in his race results, he said this was partly by design. Over the first half of the season Norris preferred a deliberately conservative approach to the start of races. He tended to lose places at the start as he prioritised getting to the finish. It didn’t always work – Daniil Kvyat took him out on the first lap in China – but the more often he reached the chequered flag, the more his confidence grew.

Nonetheless Sainz opened up a gap over him in the points as other problems took their toll – a tangle with Lance Stroll in Spain and a brake failure in Canada. Norris narrowly missed the points in Monaco and Britain, but was in superb form at the Red Bull Ring, scrapping with Pierre Gasly and Kimi Raikkonen on his way to sixth place.

Unreliability problems persisted into the second half of the season. Norris suffered especially cruel luck in Belgium, where he started well and was on course for a strong finish until his engine died with a lap to go. It wasn’t the last result he would lose to misfortune either: The team botched his pit stop in Mexico and Leclerc’s debris wrecked his race in Japan.

Lando Norris

Beat team mate in qualifying10/20
Beat team mate in race5/14
Races finished16/21
Laps spent ahead of team mate382/982
Qualifying margin+0.03s

These problems tended to coincide with his better drives. Elsewhere he usually picked up points but also tended to lag a few tenths behind Sainz. But he clearly gained confidence as his rookie season went on, giving away fewer places at the starts as he fought his corner that bit harder.

Norris’s characteristically fierce self-criticism came to the fore again over the final races. In Brazil, Sainz motored from last on the grid to the podium, while Norris languished in the lower reaches of the points. On the radio heading back to the pits, Norris chided himself for a “shit slow” drive. Realistically, he’d gambled on a set of hard tyres which no one had found particularly good lap times from.

Having already led the midfield home three times, Norris was on course to do it again in Abu Dhabi, but on worn tyres he fell victim to a superb pass by Sergio Perez on the final lap. It cost him a top 10 finish in the championship, but with only fractionally better luck he would easily have been ninth. This was a generally very impressive debut season for Norris – he can afford to be a bit less hard on himself in 2020.

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Over to you

What’s your verdict on Lando Norris’s 2019 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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27 comments on “2019 F1 driver rankings #8: Lando Norris”

  1. His qualifing was good but his racecraft could be better if that happens i think he will be good for the future.

  2. From the Alex Albon article:

    But drivers’ experience doesn’t enter into this assessment; we are solely concerned with how he performed over his 12 races at Toro Rosso and nine at Red Bull.

    If we use this logic, I wouldn’t rank Norris this high whatsoever. He was quite clearly outperformed by Sainz throughout the season and had a lot of extremely poor races where he was seriously underwhelming. If we take no consideration of prior experience, was he really much better than Vettel? Vettel was closer to Leclerc than Norris was to Sainz, and even though Vettel’s mistakes should 100% count against him, on balance I’d rank him higher than Norris. The same goes for Raikkonen. However, if you do take experience into account, this is a fair rating.

    1. Drivers experience goes deeper than just F1. Norris is quite a bit younger than Albon, who spent many more years in the junior categories. So I’d cut Norris more slack; he got to f1 amazingly quick, never mind Verstappen.

      1. Jelle van der Meer (@)
        20th December 2019, 8:45

        That might be true but Norris had the benefit of a full winter to prepare for F1 and test the Mclaren F1 car for 2019.
        If you compare that to Albon, he was drafted last minute for Toro Rosso and then mid season he changed to Red Bull for which he had NO preparation / test driving.

        We have seen it many times – the only real experience that counts is present day F1 car. Even Ocon complaint about the reduced testing time he would have to drive 2020 F1 car having been out just 1 season.

    2. thanks @mashiat , I tried to make this point on the vettel review – if we’re judging drivers purely on this season’s performances then vettel should be higher than raikkonen at least and probably norris too. vettel’s highs were very high (although fairly few in number) and his lows were pretty bad too. but because he’s such a key figure in the narrative of the sport, this kind of thing gets amplified. raikkonen’s rather anonymous season seems to have slipped under the radar.

      i think it’s a tough season to rank because there were 3 truly excellent drivers (hamilton, verstappen and sainz), with leclerc and perez also pretty handy, and then a large number of drivers who had patchy or just indifferent years (and then the duds like stroll and kubica, who easily rank very low). i’d be tempted to put bottas 6th because he was against the best of his generation and he was excellent at times (but totally meh at others). after that it’s hard to separate ricciardo, vettel, albon, gasly, raikkonen, and hulkenberg. they’ve all done well or sucked in equal measure.

    3. To me, and disregarding experience/car, Norris was in the group with Vettel/Ricciardo/Russell.
      In the final ranking they could each have ended up on any position from 7-10.
      I still don’t see how Raikkonen jumped Vettel (and Russell).

    4. @mashiat I really like Norris however I must agree with you. Norris started the reason really well, at least in terms of speed, his starts were poor but his race pace was never on his teammate level. I don’t see being beaten by Sainz as a good performance indicator. As with Bottas/Massa the measure by which Norris beats sainz is the best way to rate Lando. As with Bottas, Norris to be a top driver has to beat Carlos comprehensible as Sainz has never faired well against his teammates. somehow Daniel who beat Hulk, is less of a driver than sainz jr on this website ranking, even though Hulk trounced sainz jr.

      1. Of course he was better than Vettel. The german had arguably the best car and still could barely manage to overtake without some incident

        Yes Norris, showed his inexperience which is why he’s a few places below Sainz in this list

        Both McLaren drivers did a great job of getting that brand respected again. Norris is far more self aware than the ridiculously sulky Grojesan or see no wrong Vettel and that is as vital in F1 as spacecraft

        Fully deserving placement

        And I don’t get these constant moans about Keith’s “experience” comments. Clearly a rookie has to be judged on what he brings to the party, inexperience can be mentioned but not used to judge sympathetically and give a false rating

        Similarly, it is correct to be amazed that such an experienced driver as Vettel made so many errors, but this played no part in Keith’s ranking, i.e. Norris in the Ferrari having an idea ticks season to Vettel, gets ranked 10th

  3. These rankings perfectly demonstrate while you should do your research and not just rank drivers by your gut feeling ending up with a result that is so statistically improbable, it can for practical purposes be considered impossible.

  4. I really must have watched a different season. How are Perez and Ricciardo this far up, how is Hulk that far down, how is Norris only eight? Mad

    1. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    2. @hahostolze

      I thought it was incredibly close between Sainz, Ricciardo, Perez and Norris. All of them had their strengths and weaknesses.

      The way I see it, Norris was incredibly quick in qualifying but was still gaining race craft throughout the season. His race day improvements didn’t accelerate as much as expected in the 2nd half of the season. He was incredibly unlucky not to have finished best of the rest 4 times this season because of his retirements in Canada and Spa.

      Sainz, was quick and consistent, and barely made any errors all season (except for Bahrain). He also got Mclaren’s only podium in nearly 6 years.

      Perez wasn’t all that strong to start the season, but as the Force India car got better, he got much more consistent and put in some really top notch performances in a car that was in the lower half of the midfield. He smashed his teammate in qualifying and the race throughout the season, and was getting the maximum out of the car for the 2nd half of the season.

      Ricciardo made a whole lot more errors than we’re used to seeing this season, but he also put in incredible race day drives in a car that shouldn’t have even have been fighting for points on many occasions. He was punching above the car’s weight on a lot more weekends than Norris and Sainz did.

      If I had to rank these 4 drivers I would go with –
      #1 Sainz
      #2 Perez
      #3 Norris
      #4 Ricciardo

      1. @todfod Perez’s season can be divided into thirds. First 1/3 of the season: really solid. Second 1/3 of the season: underwhelming. Third 1/3 of the season: outstanding.

        (Now re-read this comment in Max’s voice; there’ll be a lot of turds involved)

        1. I know this is just going by statistics, but 12 races into the season just before the summer break, even Stroll had more points than Perez. If A driver this bad managed to get more points over nearly two thirds of the season, I think at some stage, Perez must have been incredibly underwhelming. Either that, Or Stroll maybe not quite as bad.

          But anyway, Perez seemed to be incredibly good after the summer break scoring in every race he had the opportunity. All but the one he retired in infact. But I just wonder how it was Stroll finished in the points both more often in the first part of the season, as well as getting more. Perez binning it in Germany certainly was not a good time to do it.

          1. @thegianthogweed

            The Force india wasnt really a points grabbing car for the first half of the season though.. Yet Perez came incredibly close to points finishes. Perez qualified and finished in front of Stroll in nearly all of those 1st 12 races though. Baku was the exception where the race roulette was rolling and Stroll got lucky again. That one result shouldn’t skew the truth to say Perez wasn’t dominating Stroll from race one.

          2. I thought Baku was about the only race that Perez looked really good near the start of the season. I am aware that Perez certainly was better, but I don’t think he was a huge amount better to begin with. He made a very costly mistake and Stroll can take a lot of credit for making the most of the opportunity in Germany. If we didn’t include Germany, then they both finished in the points 3 times. Stroll 9th in Australia and Canada (canada especially looked great from Stroll) and 10th in Baku. Perez finished 10th in Bahrain, 8th in China and a very good 6th in Baku. While he finished high up just outside the points compared to Stroll in many other races, I still think he had a pretty poor first half of the season. I also think he has some blame on his contact with Hulkenberg in Britain which resulted in finishing dead last. But germany especially was not good for perez when comparing him to an incredibly poorly rated team mate who did an excellent job.

            I still have the same view. perez really wasn’t that much better in terms of results than Stroll until after the summer break.

  5. Even with my neutral hat on, I’m happy to see them high up because I’ve grown to appreciate both drivers through the little ‘behind the scenes’ and team radio bits and pieces we’ve seen this year, but… I can’t shake the feeling that both Norris and Sainz were flattered by a very good McLaren.

    They’re an entirely new pairing with no benchmark, so we just have to guess even more than usual how close to the car’s potential they were. Not quite George Russell level of uncertainty, but not far off. We could be rightly applauding them for a great year, or heaping praise upon a couple of guys who’ve spent 21 races driving three/four-tenths slower per lap than a top driver (like that Spanish chap, forgot his name) would have been.

  6. He should get on top of Sainz before the end of 2020 if he really gets his race craft together. It is telling when a rookie out-qualifies someone of 5 years experience.

    1. Norris did not out qualifies Sainz. Sainz did not compete in Brasil and Austria qualys, he had Kubica with a puncture in Australia and yellow flags in Baku and Spa!!

  7. Great image where Norris is leading the other young stars Leclerc and Verstappen.
    And good that we cannot see the blue flags :P

    1. Oops Vettel.

  8. Norris was amazing this year. He is my driver of the year. Just wait….

  9. So … Norris, Perez and Sainz ahead of Vettel?! Didn’t know this was a comedy site.

    1. You’re right. They should actually be way ahead.

  10. In all likelyhood, had Alonso still been at McLaren, he would have trounced both Norris and Sainz as he did Vandoorne the year before, and they would both have been ranked far down the list, even if their performance would have been the same.

    1. I have to agree

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