Lando Norris, McLaren, Yas Marina, 2021

2021 F1 driver rankings #3: Lando Norris

2021 F1 driver rankings

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Lando Norris asserted himself as McLaren’s top points-scorer alongside a new, highly-rated, race-winning team mate in 2021.

Lando Norris

Beat team mate in qualifying15/22
Beat team mate in race14/20
Races finished21/22
Laps spent ahead of team mate835/1198
Qualifying margin-0.36s

So impressive was his start to the season that even past the halfway point, 12 races in, he remained third in the championship, having out-scored a Mercedes driver (Valtteri Bottas) and one of the Red Bull pair (Sergio Perez). But it was a season of two halves for Norris, and by this point things had already begun to go downhill: Having racked up 113 points in just 10 races, the remaining 12 yielded just 47. It wouldn’t be fair, however, to argue that this slump in his points-scoring accurately reflected any decline in his performance.

Over the opening three races Norris was the first driver not in a Mercedes or Red Bull to take the chequered flag every time. He did it at round five as well, and over the year as a whole finished ‘best of the rest’ more times than any other driver.

He began with fourth in Bahrain and followed it up with a superb podium finish at a damp Imola. There, had he not been pinged for track limits in qualifying he would have started at least third, and as it was he worked is way up to second, passing Charles Leclerc on the way, but had to succumb to the inevitable when Lewis Hamilton appeared in his mirrors. In Portugal Norris scrapped with Perez, and passed Ocon, on his way to fifth.

In Spain a slight error in Q3 – not his only one of the year – led to him finishing behind Daniel Ricciardo for the first time, and only occasion in the first half of the season. But in Monaco he blew his new team mate away, qualifying fifth and rising to third in the race when misfortune struck Leclerc and Bottas.

Norris collected a stiff penalty in Azerbaijan when he reacted to red flags but decided not to pull into the pits as he approached them at maximum speed. Despite the resulting grid penalty he came away with fifth place. He repeated that result at Paul Ricard, running a long first stint to move up the order, and in the first of two races in Austria after qualifying a strong third.

He did even better in the second race at the Red Bull Ring, missing pole position by less than five-hundredths of a second, and making trouble for the Mercedes driver in the race. Despite collecting a questionable penalty for his defensive move against Perez, Norris came home ahead of Hamilton, whose race was compromised by damage.

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Norris briefly led Bottas at Silverstone as well and was still able to take fourth place after the Mercedes driver passed him. But next time out, in Hungary, Bottas halted Norris’ points-scoring run after being passed by the McLaren off the line, losing control of his car under braking, and thumping into his blameless rival.

In Norris’ hands, the orange McLaren looked as quick as anything else in a drenched qualifying session at Spa. But as the rain worsened in Q3 he was caught out at Raidillon and crashed heavily. That meant he started outside the points and finished there after the farcical, one-lap excuse for a race.

McLaren weren’t competitive at Zandvoort and after failing to reach Q3 Norris had to run a long, 42-lap opening stint, and be waved past Ricciardo, to collect a single point for 10th. Monza was a big pay day for both drivers, however. Norris qualified ahead but Ricciardo got by at the start of sprint qualifying and that ultimately decided who won: Norris obeyed when asked to follow his team mate home to McLaren’s first one-two since Canada 2010.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Monaco
Norris withstood pressure from Perez for Monaco podium
Norris missed his chance to make it two wins in a row for McLaren in Sochi after a terrific performance which began with pole position in a rain-hit qualifying session. After retaking the lead from a quick-starting Carlos Sainz Jnr, Norris was keeping Hamilton at arm’s length when rain began to fall, and he decided against pitting for intermediates – which cost him heavily.

After a painful crawl around a soaked track to discard his slicks, Norris came in seventh. Surprisingly, he finished no higher over the remaining races. This was due in part to Ferrari introducing an engine upgrade from the Russian round which moved them ahead of McLaren in terms of sheer performance. In Austin another qualifying slip-up left him behind Ricciardo, who led him home, but both struggled to contain the Ferraris.

However poor luck cost Norris much more dearly over the remaining rounds. An engine penalty left him 18th on the grid in Mexico, though he climbed to 10th. After a great run in the Sao Paulo sprint race he clipped Sainz in the grand prix, incurring a puncture, and was 10th again.

Another strong qualifying performance in Qatar yielded fourth on the grid and his one-stop race was going well until he suffered another puncture and fell to ninth. Then in Saudi Arabia his race was ruined by an early red flag, which came after he’d already pitted, handing free positions to several cars ahead of him.

His luckless end to the season continued in Abu Dhabi, where a superb late qualifying lap put him third on the grid. Although Sainz got by at the start Norris was chasing him when he suffered a slow puncture which forced him into the pits, leaving him seventh at the flag.

Despite only failing to score points in Hungary and Belgium, Norris’ late slump saw him end the year fifth overall. It was less than he deserved after a season in which he took four well-earned podium finishes, produced a string of excellent qualifying performances and comfortably out-classed his team mate.

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What’s your verdict on Lando Norris’s 2021 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments. Add your views on the other drivers 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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72 comments on “2021 F1 driver rankings #3: Lando Norris”

  1. He might be the #3 for the first half of the season. But in now way overall he could be positioned 10 place higher than Ricciardo.

    1. That is strange enough my feeling also overall he made just too many mistakes (together with bad luck) ignoring red flags, just pushing to hard in Belgium (SPA), Russia, ect. I forgot several other but there were more it just went away from Lando in the second part.

    2. This is British bias in it’s purest form. Doesn’t surprise me really if I look at the bias towards Russell and Hamilton aswell

      1. I’d have ranked norris 3rd and I’m italian and my favourite current driver is verstappen and team red bull. I think leclerc made several mistakes too, hard to rank him above norris, and I also believe sainz was not as good as leclerc speed wise.

        1. Poor Italian Jesus😆

          1. Don’t see what’s the problem with being italian and not preferring an italian team or driver, I don’t mind ferrari in any case but not my favourite.

      2. Yeah, I cancelled my subscription to Autosport, it has become a hagiography magazine with a political agenda.

      3. Who else would you rank higher than Norris when considering the full season?

        PS (@ruliemaulana) it’s a ranking, not a rating, thus ‘places higher’ says very little about the relative performance difference (other than that 9 other drivers were able to squeeze themselves between these two).

      4. I’m not British, and I certainly rank Norris 3rd best this season, and feel that his potential to be a champion is better than most other drivers on this list.

    3. In 1st half of the season Norris was clearly the 2nd best driver on the grid, and actually by a margin.

      1. True, and probably the main reason for his current position here.

      2. I would say at the start of the season he was the best, Hamilton and Verstappen seemed to to be operating at about 80%-90% in the first few races. Without mistakes Hamilton could have won the first 3 races and without mistakes Verstappen could have won the first 3 races but they didn’t capitalise on each others mistakes. Norris on the other hand was clearly best of the rest. Even up to Silverstone I would have put him close to the top two.

        Spa-Sochi was probably the period with most potential for Lando (3 wins were possible – but not easy by any means) but to come out of that with just one podium, and classifying behind his teammate 3 of the 4 races for whatever reason, is where the gulf to the top two became insurmountable.

        His luck in the last 5 races was very unfortunate but in each race he fought back hard pulling off some great moves to salvage points, passing cars that Ricciardo regularly got stuck behind.

        1. Verstappen has been unquestionably the best driver all year long. (for me)

          1. Even the last 4 races?

          2. @slowmo, for some reason I can’t answer under your post, so I answer you under mine.
            yep, what’s the difference? I mean the car was clearly the difference, since Hamilton has had totally dominant Mercedes (which was not the same car as Bottas in these final 4 races), Verstappen has been spectacular in these last 4 as well and fought like no one else could’ve fought in his place every race, I reckon.

          3. In Bahrain and Portugal Verstappen lost relatively close races to Hamilton. In Imola he was overly aggresive against Hamilton in Turn 1 which could have worked against him. At that point Verstappen just seemed to be doing pretty well with the machinery he had maybe not getting everything out of it yet. It that point I was more impressed with Norris than anyone else especially with the big gap to Ricciardo.

          4. @stn I think a statement that all year long was incorrect for probably 25% of the races this year at least. It’s certainly not “unquestionable” that Verstappen has been the best driver all year long. Bar that safety car coming in on the last lap, he would have lost the championship from a very dominant position. Funny how it’s always the car for Hamilton and never Verstappen.

        2. I was also considering Lando the absolute best driver until well into the season, marginally better than Max and abysmally above all the rest. But for the whole season I reckon both Max and Carlos outclassed Lando. It is true that his lackluster 2nd half of the season was partly due to misfortune. But only partly. Mistakes which were few and far between in the early season began to accumulate.

        3. Norris was strong over the first half of the season, arguably stronger than Hamilton, just in a way lesser car.
          I don’t know about the perspective in the first 3 races, Bahrain could have gone either way, but was heavily influenced by the stewards missing Lewis 29 track limits, in both Spain and Portugal Max was a sitting duck…no more no less. Verstappen hardly could have extracted more from the package while Lewis was underpeforming…. this allowed Norris to score some good points.

          Over the first half of the season Norris was ranked 2nd best by many pundits, but Sainz, Leclerc and Gasly caught up with him in the second half

  2. It’s interesting when you get an exciting and close fought year like this that someone in 3rd can make several errors and still deserve that place. Hamilton and Verstappen also made their fair share of mistakes (especially Ham early season). This is what happens when it’s close and the pressure’s on. When your car has a big advantage, you can afford to back off that 1%.

    Fingers crossed next year is close too although historically that’s not the case when we have big rule changes.

    1. Good point @squeakywheel, you are right that these excellent athletes only make those mistakes when under pressure, so we need that pressure to get to see them make mistakes and recover from them to make a great season.

      I do hope that we get more of that this season. And yeah, Lando has really deserved to be in 3rd right behind Max and Lewis.

  3. I think Norris absolutely deserves the #3 slot in this list. I remember before the season started how this site was full of comments stating that Norris would be shown up by his teammate. Although I think it unfair to compare the pairs’ abilities by just one season (and one where one of the drivers was new to the team with little pre-season testing), Norris was still able to shine pretty brightly.

    His latter part of the season was not great, but this was mainly down to bad luck more than anything else (especially in Saudi Arabia where he was scuppered by a red flag). But luck doesn’t define a driver and he stamped his authority early on and showed great qualy abilities and also great racecraft. Norris was exciting to watch and he’s still developing. Along with Lelerc, Sainz and Russell – he seems to be one of the young talented drivers who perhaps have a world championship on the horizon, or hopefully at least a battle to contend for one.

    Norris had to take a lot on the chin this year and seemed quite downcrest at times, I just hope he has been able to revaluate the season and gained confidence for the new regs this year.

  4. Only thing I don’t understand is how he can be so high and Ricciardo so low. I’d understand one or the other but not both. Either he was exceptional against an average Ricciardo or average against a terrible Ricciardo. The gap was not such to merit both with Ricciardo usually behind just 3 places (behind the ferraris or alpines depending the track) on an average race.

    He was lightning at the start of the season but consistently fell off in the second half. Just my 2 cents.

    1. Ricciardo was TERRIBLE! A win doesn’t save a season, his monza performance was great but in another race it could’ve been a 3rd or 4th place. There has to be a huge difference between these 2.

      1. He wasn’t so bad as to merit 10 points place difference in this ranking is all I’m getting at. If he really did so terrible, then Lando just did average and should have scored even more…

    2. Because Ricciardo was awful.
      He’s overrated and has been found out, again

      1. Well, Norris is also overrated. The guy who can’t win but one race in F2 in equal cars, who has 0 strategy thinking, and who was never even close to winning another race in F2 is definitely overrated. He was also beaten by Sainz, another medium-level racer at best. By the middle of the season, when all of the teams figured out how their car works, Norris was nowhere too many times.

        I’m curious what would a great driver achieve in that McLaren – Alonso, Verstappen or Hamilton.

        1. I’m sure hamilton would do no better than norris for most of the season, alonso is also probably up there, maybe verstappen would do a little better, but norris is still not very experienced, so he can certainly get to verstappen level, speed is already there.

    3. I like Daniel, but his stats VS Lando were massively worse than Lance against Seb, Gio against Kimi, Latifi against Russell… only Yuki VS Pierre is as one-side from a purely numbers point of view… and Daniel is supposed to be in another tier versus all those “losing” team mates.

      Daniel fans need to get over the fact he had a shockingly bad season by his standards.

      1. Yeah he had a bad season, but still managed 8th to lando’s 6th… That’s not so far off as to say he’s done absolutely horrible and lando’s done incredible. I can believe one or the other but not both.

        I’m not saying he hasn’t had a terrible season, but if you look at it that way then Lando’s just had an average one.

        1. I think you’re forgetting the importance of the car: mclaren and ferrari were definitely better cars than the rest, so ricciardo being terrible is a bit masked by the finishing position, same thing for perez but another tier up car wise.

    4. Also the expectations from Ricciardo was high. He somehow couldn’t achieve to settle in and score consistent points for the majority of the season, which is less than what everyone expected. On the other hand, Norris is young, so he was expected to take advantage of Ricciardo being in his first year here, learn form him and score as many points as he can. In reality, his start of his season was superb and he exceeded expectations. I think this why there is disparity.

  5. British goggles. I rest my case.

    1. It’s a fair ranking even as someone not british imo.

    2. Whoever is wearing them. Go outside. Walk to a pub. Have a pint. Take those silly goggles off. Leave them on the table. Walk out.

    3. I think you need to make a case before it can rest.

  6. Norris had a very good year overall, ha made a couple of mistakes and one pretty bad call. But I think it’s fair to put them down to inexperience rather than reflect on his skill as a driver. Yeah the gap to Ricciardo is a thing, but anyway..

    1. Pretty bad call also? It was a gamble, could’ve gone either way, it started to rain more and that was bad luck, if it had gone the other way he’d have won, it made sense to risk it, he’s not fighting for the championship.

  7. His Monaco Q3 lap, is massively underrated, I feel guys. I like to go back to it and watch his onboard footage again and again every now and then. For me it was undoubtedly the best lap of the weekend from any driver.
    For me he just truly showed his great potential that day. Just ridiculously clean and impressively close to the walls on the limit and way better than what both Ferrari drivers, Max and Bottas did manage to put together in Q3. Mclaren was clearly 4th fastest car at best(at least 4 tenths slower than 3 top cars, by my estimations) but he did manage to qualify just 0,044s off what would eventually be Pole.

    1. You mean the race Leclerc got Pole???🤣🤣
      It’s actually his Abu Dhabi P3 in qualifying that is underrated.

      1. yep, the pole where he was slower than his teammate in the same car in the 1st corner alone by 0,2s. (the whole weekend) Leclerc was slower than Sainz on S1+S2 combined, Sainz ruined his lap by mistakes in the final couple of corners. Leclerc’s lap was good but not that special. Ferrari was the fastest car, certainly at least 0,4-0,5s faster than Mclaren.

    2. A pole lap does not have to be beautiful to watch… Just the fastest.

  8. Easiest placing on the rankings, no other driver came close to him for 75% of the season. Had he continued his first half form through the end of the season you could even argue he’d have challenged the top 2.

    1. I absolutely agree. His racecraft is improving every year, and I can’t wait to see if McLaren have built a car that he can start winning races in. His attitude and sportsmanship are the best in the field.

      1. Indeed, I won’t bother checking but if I recall he actually was 2nd in the first half, and deservingly so, given hamilton’s mistakes.

  9. I see multiple people are just accusing racefans of British bias without even giving a single reason as to why Norris shouldn’t be third. He was very clearly third-best this season, and was considerably quicker than Ricciardo all season; a gap of 0.36s against a multiple race winner is huge.

    1. Exactly, it’s pathetic!!

    2. Wasn’t the gap close in qualifying?

    3. Maybe it’s because he didn’t perform in his last few races as well as he did the rest of the season. Also it feels he and Ricciardo are too separated in this ranking considering the final standings. Still, you’re right; I find it’s quite telling when someone just says “British bias” without any further argument. And I’m far from being British myself…

      I personally think Norris fully deserves being third looking at the whole season.

      1. Yes, those who say british bias in reality are biased against norris, probably anti-british, though I have to say the british didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory with their reaction to the silverstone incident!

  10. I think 3rd is deserved, although I would certainly not claim to be impartial!

    As a McLaren fan, my fear is that if Hamilton chooses to retire, Mercedes will do everything they can to bring Norris in as a replacement.

    1. Ocon will be the replacement.

      He’s Toto’s other golden boy.
      And now he has a win under his belt … in a “non-competitive” team.

      Alpine will take Toto’s money, & happily run Piastri alongside Alonso to learn as quickly as possible.

  11. Hilarious how when a British driver does well, the press recognise this and are called biased.

    Norris had a way better season than either Ferrari driver, makes next to no mistakes (I think Spa can be forgiven) and Russia was inexperience. Sainz frequently bins it in practice and quali and Leclerc is hot headed and inconsistent, makes too many errors.

    So how exactly is this biased?? Get over yourselves.

    1. Spa can be forgiven, yes, if anything I feel sorry for norris there cause it was in a moment the conditions were deemed too treacherous to drive, and in driveable conditions he was as fast as anyone, could’ve got pole as well.

  12. I don’t think it is British bias (unless I think too highly of the British as truly universal people). Norris did a superb job during the first part of the season. He kept third place in the standings for many races. So, first part of the season, he was third (quite close to Hamilton actually). But what happened in the second half? Sochi was more than a mistake. It was arrogance at its highest. He wants to be like Kimi on the radio but he just made a fool of himself. One thing is to say, “guys I hear you but I think I can make it, so I won’t pit” and another to say “shut up”. The first could qualify as a mistake or not even if everything was so uncertain, so at the best a lost gamble. But being arrogant is never good, he is part of a team and you must treat your team with respect.

    This lack of respect was somehow shown at Monza as well. After the race he behaved as though the team had stripped him of the win. Not a big fan of Riccardo, but he absolutely deserved it and not Norris.

    And last, his performance during the second half of the race was quite average. As I said in a previous post, Sainz for me is clear third.

    1. Absolutely, this site doesn’t seem british biased, both hamilton 2nd, norris 3rd and russell 8th are reasonable positions, with maybe some wider possibilities for russell (8-10th), the other 2 should be set in stone.

  13. Finally a good ranking – up until Russia he was my number 2 of the year, but his drop of performance since Turkey dropped him behind Hamilton as well.

    He’s such a good driver Lando.

  14. Lando was brilliant almost all season long.
    Danny Ric had serious problems with the car.

    Lando also had much more bad luck than Danny Ric.

    He is also #3 on my list and “won” five races (was my driver of the weekend): Imola, Monaco, Styria, Austria and Sochi.

    Max, my #1, won three races, Lewis, my #2, won four.

    Besides that, Lando was 2nd best (for me) in Bahrain & Portugal.
    It is true that he didn’t make the Top 5 of a weekend in the last seven events, but neither did Danny Ric.

  15. As a McLaren lifer I’ve always been somewhat tentative to lavish praise on Norris, who was a bit of an unproven quantity coming in, and really the upside at the time was he was bringing money.

    That seems night and day to any fair assessment of Norris after this season, he has become a very solid consistent performer and it’s done the team no end of good.

    I’m not sure if we put every driver in a spec kart tomorrow that Norris would finish 3rd, or even 5th, but it’s an absolutely fair ranking based on this season.

    Hopefully with a car that suits Daniel a little more next year we will get the true measure of these two – consigning Ricciardo to number two status would be exceedingly dumb.

    Hurr de durr de, British bias, and all of that of course tho. *Sound of my eyes rolling so hard I rupture my optic nerve*

    1. It’s interesting to see Norris started as a driver with lots of sponsor money and a very rich dad in lots of opinions, but ended as the great new British hope for the future.
      Russell is a very hyped driver in the media and Norris started as the opposite. Let’s see what 2022 brings us.
      I vote for lando :)

      1. When looking at the car they have one has to assume russell will get more success, not cause he’s better than norris, but cause there’s more chance merc makes a better car than mclaren, mclaren and ferrari were top teams before merc and red bull came, now I don’t think they have what it takes.

  16. Great season from Norris, completely shattered expectations, 3rd is well deserved.

  17. Norris was clearly third best of the season. Weird that this is controversial. In fact, the gap from Norris down to fourth is only beaten by the gap between 19th and 20th and the gap between second and third. Norris was miles ahead of all the field, except for the two guys who are miles ahead of him and indeed put in all-time great seasons. Norris in a faster car and in a different field (2008 or 2009?) would have been WDC.

    1. Jose Lopes da Silva
      26th January 2022, 13:41

      Don’t assume it’s controversial. You would have to make a large poll to get data enough to assume it’s controversial.
      The, apparently, “many” comments here complaining wouldn’t make 10% of “Norris does not deserve to be 3rd” on a poll.

  18. Good performance, Lando-boy.

  19. It all started late last season for Norris, the time when he started showing he is f1 worthy. I think Carlos saw it coming and could not be happier to be leaving McLaren.
    Pretty much up until late last season, Lando was neck and neck with Sainz jr, good for a rookie but disappointing for a 2nd season. In Abu Dhabi 2020 something clicked, Lando trounced Sainz jr and Lando carried this form for 2021. Daniel could only match Lando on the weekends Lando failed to get to the McLaren’s sweet spot.
    Considering the missed weekends and the wasted opportunities, I cannot rank Lando 3rd, but that is because I don’t rank drivers on car performance or results, otherwise it is more than expected. I’m sure Lando ascended to a high level of performance but he missed some opportunities.

    1. Jose Lopes da Silva
      26th January 2022, 14:38

      Who would you rank third?

    2. Not many drivers this year took all their opportunities, even Hamilton and Verstappen probably left a few wins on the table each. On balance he didn’t throw away many obvious opportunities other than Russia which I think was a legitimate gamble they needed to make for the win. On another day that would have been the right call. All in all he had a couple of qualifying sessions where he left some performance on the table but otherwise his race performances were always good. I really can’t think of any driver I’d place above him other than the 2 championship contenders.

      1. @slowmo Not talking about Russia, talking about Spa, Monza, spain the odd weekends where both Ricciardo and Lando were way down on the grid. I’m pretty much saying that I’d hoped Lando had been able to be a clear 3rd best all season. The midfield was tight but in my view mclaren was faster than ferrari. Frankly there was a chasm between The top 2 drivers.

        1. The top 2 drivers and the rest of the field. Kind of felt like Lando was quick but he did not need to fight for it.

  20. Given the equipment at his disposal vs the drivers ahead of him, and the thrashing of his much more highly rated teammate, I have Lando at No.2.
    He was unlucky at Spa, where he was looking the class of the field in the wet conditions until that qualifying mistake … which carried over to the farce of a race. A number of late season punctures also robbed him of a few much better finishes. Definitely a solid No.2 for me.

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