Why F1’s midfield star of 2021 has committed his future to McLaren

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Lando Norris has come of age at the beginning of his third season of Formula 1.

The McLaren driver ended 2020 with an assured drive to fifth place at Yas Marina, leading the midfield home behind the untouchable Mercedes and Red Bulls. He has carried that form into the new season in fine style.

In Bahrain, Imola and Algarve, he ensured his MCL35M was the first midfield car home. And thanks to McLaren’s off-season gains, those top two teams are considerably closer than before; enough that Norris has often taken points off their cars.

As Carlos Sainz Jnr departed McLaren for Ferrari, and Daniel Ricciardo arrived in his place, Norris has been his team’s constant. What better time, then, to ink a new, multi-year deal?

Speaking to RaceFans and selected media in Monaco, where the team was resplendent in a one-off livery celebrating sponsor Gulf, Norris explained why he pledged his future to the team which brought him into Formula 1.

Norris soaked up Perez pressure for third in Monaco
“It’s a combination of a few things over the last couple of years that we’ve that we’ve done,” says the 21-year old. “But then also things we have coming up in the future.”

The team which last 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 biggest things,” Norris says. “How much easier it will make their lives in the factory, the guys and girls who have to travel all the way to Germany every time, and go to the wind tunnel. They have to spend isolation there for three weeks, then come back, isolation again, so the amount of time we lose a lot of time compared to other teams who are able to do it a lot quicker.”

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That investment is just part of the changes McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown and team principal Andreas Seidl have planned to bring the team back to the front. Like many of their rivals, the team has an eye fixed on new technical regulations which will arrive for the 2022 F1 season, and the opportunity they present to significantly close the gap to dominant reigning champions Mercedes, and challengers Red Bull.

Ahead of Monaco, Norris extended his McLaren deal
“I think what we have now is still taking a couple of years to settle into place and come all together for the next few years,” says Norris.

“In 2022, everything changes. I think we’ve had these rules for a few years now where we were a long way behind with these rules. We caught up a lot with these rules. And the fact we managed to catch up as much as we have has been pretty good.

“But then in 2022 everything’s different. So I have the belief that we can start off on a much better foot, I would want to say, in the best way possible.

“You still know that Mercedes and Red Bull are going to be fast from the off next year. But if we can start much closer then we’ll still be able to progress from there on.”

Having started 2021 so strongly, Norris might have been forgiven for thinking he had a chance to attract the attention of one of the top teams. But he says he would be reluctant to leave the team that brought him into Formula 1 if such an opportunity arose.

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“I owe a lot to the team for giving me the opportunity to be here and everything. Getting to do already the FP1s and in-season test that I did it back in 2017, I think a lot of that set me up very well to come into Formula 1 in a good way.

Monaco podium was his third in F1 so far
“They helped me a lot. I was at a lot of races the year before with them. I went to a lot of races with them just kind of getting to know the engineers, working 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 for them. And I think loyalty is one of the biggest things in terms of respect between us and the teams and stuff, so it wouldn’t be an easy decision for sure.”

Norris’ new deal is a career milestone – the moment he moves from being a relative newcomer in 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 quite early, still year three,” says Norris. “But I feel much more like my own driver rather than just a driver who’s in Formula 1.

“I feel much more like I know what I want to learn and know what I want to aim for and what I need to do. I know what I need around me to make sure I’m in the best mentality, the best position possible to do the job I need to do.

“I’m just much more a driver who knows what he needs in his life to enjoy it, perform at the best level that he can, prepare in the best level that he can and then you put all that together, and I guess that’s the driver I am now.”

Norris feels he is a “much more complete driver” now
Not since Lewis Hamilton have McLaren brought a new driver into the sport who has impressed in the way Norris has. But he is characteristically modest about his chances of becoming the team’s next world champion.

“You never stop learning, you never stop getting better,” he reflects. “In many ways. I’m still early days, I would say.

“You have like Daniel or Lewis, who’s an incredible driver, but he still says now he makes mistakes and he still learns and he’s still getting better and so on. So I’ve got a long way to go until I’m at that stage.

“But me comparing to the driver I was a few years ago, I’m just a much more complete driver.”

From that has come the increasingly impressive performances which had already earned him his first podium finish of the year at the time of our interview. A second followed a few days later on Monaco’s streets. It’s hard to imagine there won’t be more to follow.

With his second podium from five races in 2021, Norris now lies third in the championship

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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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  • 25 comments on “Why F1’s midfield star of 2021 has committed his future to McLaren”

    1. Go Lando! One of the best addition to the field in recent years. New batch of youngsters with authenticity more in mind than all the bling bling. And he’s fast too!

    2. I would have given him a shoo-in at Merc if they look beyond Russell. I guess he will just wait his time as it looks like Hamilton us kit yet ready to commit his future to AMG

    3. Great interview, really became a fan of Lando during last years lockdowns, and of course helping the team tear down the car. Thing I like about him is that it’s real, or maybe it’s really good acting but it doesn’t seem like it. When other drivers say they’re trying to integrate themselves into a team, you know, discussions at the factory and all that, it seems pale in comparison to the way Lando has done it. The early contract extension says a lot, having that faith in his team.

      Really wish him all the best, I genuinely mean that even as a Ricciardo fan. It’s going to be tough to watch if they get real competitive over the next couple years.

      1. Yeah, he’s done really well to be integrated into the team. Same with Carlos when he was there (perhaps more so) and he bought that work ethic to Ferrari. Would love to see Daniel try to replicate that ethic more and perhaps it could help him steer the design direction more to suit him and help him get up to speed faster, although it seems like he’ll be doing so with the new chassis that’s rumoured, supposedly he wants some more focus on the brake set up which will be good for him.

        Reply moderated
      2. @skipgamer amen to that. Huge Ric fan, but became a Norris fan during the lockdown. Going to be tough!

    4. Interesting to see loyalty still exists with the new generation divers like Norris and Verstappen and leclerc.
      But one asks when internal politics crush these fresh ideals. F1 is a snake pit, with lots of money and little ethics.
      McLaren lost the snake master, but Ferrari and rbr still are used to the old “ethics”.
      I am curious how this will develop.

    5. One day he will be the chosen one.

    6. Great move for LN. No better place for him to be for now and the near future. No better ride available for him. He’s ‘home’ with a family there, and they are a well resourced team with big plans, so… onward and upward LN. A very wise and exciting multi-year commitment imho.

    7. Ben (@sunnchilde)
      31st May 2021, 16:28

      Well, we know Danny isn’t going back to RedBull unless Max leaves. Londo and Danny will be a great, combination for McLaren.

    8. Top driver, top bloke. Of course with his mental fragility (openly admitted), staying in a secure environment is best.

      His development is really good and steady. I can’t see much weakness, although he’s not yet had the toughest of pressures.

      Lapping a team mate like Ricciardo at Monaco and being so at one with a difficult car is quite something.

      It might be wishful thinking since I used to simrace, but I wonder how much of Norris’ speed and dealing with a difficult car is down to his endless hours behind the computer wheel. There he can together with his engineer replicate some of the car’s handling and just smash around for lap after lap until he understands it. But as we saw during lockdown last year when Norris was competing, even the racecraft is honed with his engineer. Remember the comment from his engineer about concentration with about 15 laps to go at Monaco now? Maybe after 100 simraces, they have seen patterns where he drops off after 75 minutes and have routines for beating it. Stuff like that.

      1. It’s not uncommon for young people to have a shorter concentration span.
        He is only 21.

        1. Not just young people. Long periods of concentration is incredibly fatiguing.

    9. Hasn’t won a race yet. Let’s see.

      1. Hasn’t had the car either.

      2. @maxv what a ridiculous statement.

        1. @justrhysism let’s see how he develops. He hasn’t proven that much yet. Let’s see if he can lead an win in a top team. I don’t think he is championship material yet, too much of a kid mentality.

          1. @maxv I don’t disagree. While I don’t follow him closely enough to know how strong he has been mentally in his racing career, I do agree with you that there comes a point when all these F1 drivers are pretty darn good at what they do but it becomes exactly as you are saying…how well do they perform when the pressure is at it’s greatest, just as with many many athletes in all sports. For sure we have to say LN has not been anywhere nearly in the highest of pressure situations that F1 has to offer. So in that sense yes he has much to prove yet. I do think he has taken a great step towards at least attempting to put himself in those situations though, with his commitment and they to him at such an historic and well resourced team. Let’s watch and see where it goes from here. And of course from next year onwards which I think will be more of a driver vs drivers series than it has been in a long time.

            1. @robbie yes fully agree with that. Lando is great marketing materia. If you follow him for instance on the online racing he just doesn’t show the tenacity that Max has been showing, wanting to win even that. Lando is pretty playful. Of course his F1 ethic is way better but he is maybe not enough of a “jerk” to be championship material. Still possible though.

    10. Looking at the photo of the Monaco 2011 podium, if Max was German (or Seb was Dutch), the nationality of the drivers would be the same as well.

    11. isthatglock21
      31st May 2021, 18:59

      Realistically he wasn’t really going anywhere else so why waste your time? He’s been a solid part of that set up for a long time and clearly the development of the cars etc has been in line with his input, which is all one can ask for in many respects. Wouldn’t say he’s up there as a genrational talent, but he’s clearly working his way to the top, he badly wants to beat Danny Ric which will give him the much need confidence to step up another level, after loosing out to Sainz over 2 seasons. I think he needs to continue upping his game & beat Danny Ric again before settles in in 2022 as there’s plenty other stars on the grid who keep raising the standard e.g. Max, Leclerc, Russell…and who knows who the new kids on the block will be in a few years. The game changes fast.

      1. Not sure as he could well be the type both Red Bull and even Mercedes is looking for alongside their no. 1 driver. Easy-going but still very good.

    12. Even Marko saw Landos potential

      1. But they don’t need him.

    13. Let’s be honest that was his only option. All the main teams have one young gun who there future centres around
      Mercedes-Russell
      Ferrari-Leclerc
      Red Bull-Verstappen
      McLaren-Norris
      Aston Martin-Stroll (ability aside. The purpose of this team is to make Stroll champion)
      Renault-Ocon

      So unless Lando wanted to become a no. 2 driver, he had no chance of going anyhwere else

      1. But he could sign for Mercedes…could he?

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