The “sporting humility” Sainz and Norris share with three champions

2020 F1 season

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McLaren racing director Andrea Stella has worked with Formula 1 world champions like Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.

Today he is charged with helping Carlos Sainz Jnr and Lando Norris perform at their best every time they sit at the wheel of their MCL35s. It’s been a successful season so far for the team, which lies third in the constructors’ championship.

Speaking to RaceFans in an exclusive interview, Stella described how their drivers’ relentless pursuit of improvement reminds him of the champions he’s worked with in the past.

“I have been lucky enough to find myself next to drivers of the calibre of Michael, Fernando, and Kimi [who] was champion in the first year at Ferrari. They are not born so often, let’s say.

“But there’s some elements of Carlos and Lando [there] and I want to hope that we are somehow contributing to that, in creating the right mindset.”

“Both of them are constantly in the process of [asking]: ‘How can I be better tomorrow than today?'” said Stella. “I’m sure if you ask every driver, they will all say ‘But I’m doing the same’.

“But there’s a way of doing things and I think they are doing it in the right way, which includes as well some values.”

Stella characterises this trait as “a sporting humility”

Stella with Sainz in Mexico last year
“It’s a very important characteristic,” he says. “It’s acknowledging that you enable the solutions, and the solution comes through collaboration.”

Despite this similarity, Sainz and Norris have different approaches both to working with the team and driving the car.

“Carlos, if anything, likes to have his internal dialogue, he likes to reflect on things,” explains Stella. “Reflective, introspective, very logical, very rational.

“Sometimes I tell Carlos he’s going to be prime minister at some stage, and it’s going to be to the benefit of Spain. He’s a really clever guy, grounded. Even the way he drives: He likes to have a clear plan, even the plan to approach the corner.”

His team mate is more direct, says Stella. “Lando instead is more like he thinks and he speaks. Very direct, which makes him also… I’m sure from a social point of view he’s quite successful, and it comes through. Straightforward, let’s say.

“He’s a very nice guy, very talented. He’s learning how to use his talent, and he’s doing well in this respect. We are very pleased with how every day he’s better than the previous day.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2020
Norris started his second season on the podium
“In a way this is true when I was working with Fernando or with Michael. One thing I can say: Up to the last day of their career they thought ‘How can I be better than yesterday?’ In a very humble way, it’s the kind of humility you need to succeed.

“So yes, his collaboration with the engineers, with the rest of the team is good. And in the collaboration of our drivers I think McLaren have an opportunity, compared to what can be happening at other teams.”

It isn’t just Stella who sees that opportunity. Last weekend by McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown described how some of their rivals have “destabilised” driver line-ups at the moment.

“We have two drivers that are doing an excellent job and some other teams which have disruption in their garage,” said Brown. As the season moves into its second half, the strength of their driver pairing will be vital to McLaren as they bid to beat Racing Point, Ferrari and Renault to that third place.

Read more from Stella in the new edition of the RacingLines column, coming up later today on RaceFans

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2020 F1 season

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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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26 comments on “The “sporting humility” Sainz and Norris share with three champions”

  1. McLaren is such a positive team now, and the drivers are part of that aren’t they. It’s a shame their wind tunnel got delayed by Covid, I’m not sure it’s going to be online for the 2022 car now? But an upward trajectory. Think I’d rather be Danny Ric than Carlos next year in fact. McLaren’s going to be a lot more fun too. The Danny and Lando act is going to be a riot, in fact, while Charles and Carlos probably isn’t.

    1. @zann, I think you’re right. McLaren seems to be a good environment. You hear all-to-often about drivers struggling with the team culture at places like Ferrari (although I personally don’t see Vettel as ‘top tier’, I like him has a personality and he just doesn’t seem as happy there as he did at Red Bull and it’s sad to see).

      McLaren seem to be doing a lot right and it’s great to see them working together as a team. Maybe they’ve been humbled by a few years of poor performance, perhaps Ferrari may remould in the same manner.

      1. Yes @geekzilla9000 it’s a culture thing isn’t it, and now is the cooperation mutual era with Andreas Seidl, like Christian and Toto, not the tough guy leader like Ron and Frank.

        I think this is where Ferrari are trying to get to as well, with Mattia, but they’re also having to adjust to less entitlement at the same time. Hopefully Carlos will help, and he and Charles can work together on it.

  2. Like many, I used to love his voice on the team radio. “Kimi, we are a four a second a ahead a Alonso a”.

  3. He’s basically slamming Sainz here. Quite revealing.

    1. No he really isn’t at all. He simply highlighted that both drivers go about the same improvement processes but in different ways and he’s happy with both. McLaren clearly have appreciated the efforts of Sainz and Norris has benefited from having him as a teammate. They truly do work as a team and while they clearly don’t like being beaten by each other, they’re both always working to get the best team result they can.
      Best partnership on the grid for me from a entire team dynamic and overall performance perspective at the moment. Had Sainz not had some awful bad luck they’d be another 20-30 points down the road of their competitors too.

    2. Mate how did you end up inferring that?

    3. How is he slamming him? Sure, being Prime Minister of any country is a recipe for abject misery, but hardly a slam

    4. @slowmo @inarush He clearly says “the solution comes through collaboration.” Then goes on to say Sainz is internalizing things, whereas Norris is collaborating well.

      1. @balue
        The inference I got was that Carlos takes more time to consider things before he talks to the team, whereas Lando says what he thinks immediately. Both are valid ways of working, and it probably speaks of their different ages and experience levels too.

        1. @george To me it’s a clear dig, especially with the prime minister comment as well. You know, he will not need council and just decide by himself. He has a plan for everything.

          The point here was that the greats have the humility to always collaborate and not think they know it all. He is saying the opposite when it comes to Sainz.

          1. I would think that the prime minister thing (especially while adding that it will be to the benefit of Spain) is rather something of a huge compliment.

          2. @bascb Not in this context. He’s basically softening the critique by packing it in a seeming compliment. He’s basically saying he’s bossy.

            It’s like: ‘Hey Carlos, we look for the ability to collaborate with humility, but you come across as the prime minister of Spain. You know, where you have figured it all out by yourself and have a plan for everything.’

            ‘Norris on the other hand.. very good collaboration’

          3. (I bet what he wanted to say was the ‘king of Spain’, but that would have been too much)

          4. I suppose you can always read a comment or a situation both ways… But man, this really is a stretch. In fact, I even read it the opposite, he seem full of praise for Sainz behaviour, and then tried to incorporate Lando. Anyway…

  4. I don’t think reverse grids is the way forward.
    It works in F2, because they have 2 races per weekend. The 2nd race grid is reversed on the 1st race result. F1 has 1 race per weekend. Also, It works in F2, because they all drive the same car. F1 cars across teams are not the same. Each car is designed to handle differently. We saw how mercedes struggled in Monza cause their cars are not set up to work in crowds. It also is unfair to the driver who put in a good lap and came out on Pole. F1 might say lets reverse it depending on championship points. But imagine a race like in 2012 where alonso was stuck behind Maldonado? and lost his championship because of that. Imagine that was a reverse grid. Who takes blame for that then? Or, imagine one tries to overtake someone like Grosjean who likes to scare people when being overtaken, n that causes the championship leader to crash. Who takes the blame there?
    Most importantly, I don’t get FIA. After so much talking about “We are going to improve overtaking!” they went ahead and banned engine modes, which helped everyone overtake. At this point, Bernie’s sprinklers totally makes sense!

    This is my understanding of it all. I may have missed some important bits and misunderstood the whole thing.

    1. Yes Terry, you have missed an important bit and that is posting your reply in the wrong thread :)

      1. The reverse grid race will happen in place of the standard qualifying in some weekends.

  5. So they are really great guys and the only thing important is the results they produce.
    Who cares if they help old ladies cross the street or if the can help fix broken bird houses? None of it really matters if they fail bring in the points. Good guys lose their rides when prolonged lack of success is present. Some teams rely on lesser maybe unproven drivers because they for some reason have sponsorship. It’s about the money. No results no bucks

    1. Stella is clearly describing how he thinks their drivers’ personalities are contributing to both their and the teams’ overall performance. It’s not about being ‘nice’, it’s about being willing to recognise your failures (or just areas which can be optimised) and improve, along with communicating with the team in order to help each other improve.

  6. Michael Schumacher, humility? I’m sorry…but…is he OK? I Think a fever has set in.

    1. ‘How can I be better than yesterday?’ In a very humble way, it’s the kind of humility you need to succeed”

      Did you read the article? The quote above explained what he meant by that. Seems pretty clear to me.

      1. Yeah, I read it, but it still doesnt make sense if you compare to the way MS acted. Sorry, but actions speak louder than words.

        If it said MS was exceptionally driven and focussed in his quest for excellence, that would be a different thing entirely and more to the truth.

        1. How drivers behave in the confines of their respective garages and motor homes vs their public persona may be different.

          He was saying that Michael was always looking for ways to improve, I think some of the wording may have got lost in translation. Having said this, you have to be “humble” to recognise that you can always be better. If you believe that you’re the best thing since sliced bread, well, you arent going to improve.

          1. Yep, fair point

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