‘I owe McLaren a lot, but not my life’ – Norris on reaching F1 and chasing his first win


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Leaning back in his chair chomping on a biscuit with one leg perched at a right angle, Lando Norris is every bit the relaxed, light-hearted character fans know and love.

But there’s far more to him than his cool, fun-loving persona. Beyond the team radio memes, his Twitch antics and love of golf, the 23-year-old is a reflective and thoughtful character – one unafraid to openly and honestly discuss his ups and downs with a candidness that’s rare among Formula 1 drivers.

It’s easy to forget Norris is only in his fifth year as a grand prix driver. Yet he has already cemented his spot as one of the most talented and talked about on the grid. Despite his fame and fortune, Norris remains amazed at his own achievements, admitting he still has to pinch himself regularly as a reminder as to how far he’s come.

Like many F1 drivers, Norris came from an affluent background. His father had amassed huge wealth after selling his successful pensions advising company. It would then be easy to assume he grew up relying on his millionaire father’s money to get into F1 – but this is where his story differs from so many. Norris made a pact with his dad and has since earned his success on merit.

“I would never want to pay to come into F1,” Norris affirms emphatically during an exclusive interview with RaceFans. “I would never want my dad to have done that. I personally just don’t see that as the most deserving way of being in Formula 1.

“I made that deal with my dad. We made it so that he wouldn’t pay for me to get into Formula 1. And that’s how it went. I ended up joining McLaren. I won the British Young Driver Award. I ended up then getting my simulator role with the team and getting my first pay cheque.”

McLaren MCL34, 2019
A fresh-faced Norris debuted in 2019
While admitting he never got to see that first cheque in real life, Norris understands he has been more fortunate than most other drivers in his career despite his impressive CV more than standing on its own merits. Turning heads by winning the MSA Formula Championship title in 2015, the Toyota Racing Series, Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup in 2016, and the Formula 3 European Championship in 2017, it’s hardly surprising McLaren signed him up as a reserve driver at the age of just 17 on his way to the elite world of F1.

“I think that’s one of the things you still have to pinch myself. Well… I never pinch myself, but I would say it’s one of the things I always look back on and smile, smile about.

“There’s 20 of us in the world, and I’m one of those 20 who gets to live one of the coolest lives I would say you can live with great people. So many perks, get to travel the world and just race cars.

“I’ve never been shy to admit the help and support I’ve had for my family and for my dad growing up. Him supporting me, being able to be with good teams always – like anyone would if they were in that same position. I was very lucky that my dad was able to support me and do it.”

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Norris started racing for McLaren in 2019, a team that had suffered multiple troubled seasons alongside Honda and their uncompetitive power unit. But a breath of fresh air was exactly what the team needed and, alongside Carlos Sainz Jnr, Norris helped to reinvigorate McLaren. The two team mates and good friends finished fourth in the constructors’ championship in Norris’s rookie season, with more than double McLaren’s points haul of 2018.

Norris came closest to victory in Sochi in 2021
Since then, Norris has stuck with McLaren through thick and thin, picking up his first podium in Austria during the opening race of the covid-disrupted 2020 season. The closest he has come to a first grand prix win was in Sochi in 2021 when the team decided not to pit for intermediates when rain started to fall. Starting from pole position, it was a gamble that didn’t pay off as Norris slipped down the order after struggling to keep his car on the track in the final moments of the race on slicks. He has wracked up seven podiums with McLaren but is still waiting patiently for his first-ever F1 win.

“It’s something I think about, every now and then,” Norris admits. “It’s not something that plays on my mind or gets me worried or anything like that. I just know when the time comes, it comes.

“Until then, I just do the best job I can with what I got. I think I’ve learned that well enough over the last five years. Every category I’ve done into Formula 1, I’ve had a chance to win and have been able to win. Formula 1 is the first time you have to come in and kind of reset that thought and the expectation of it.

“Even if you don’t want to initially do that, you learn to. And I think with having three or four seasons where it was tough and sometimes you take some steps forward, we were close and then didn’t happen. It’s just a waste of thoughts if you’re stuck thinking about it.

“I’ve learned to put it behind me and just crack on with what I’m doing and knowing when my time comes and then it comes.”

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Thanks to his fine form and impressive driving style, Norris has been rumoured to have been sought by several teams in the past, most recently linked with Red Bull to replace Sergio Perez who has been struggling alongside Max Verstappen. Despite this, Norris – who becomes a free agent at the end of 2025 when his contract expires – remains realistic with his future.

(L to R): Lando Norris, McLaren, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2023
Norris is enjoying a strong season with McLaren
“I owe McLaren a lot, but I don’t owe them my life,” he says, tellingly. “Obviously there’s always been things going on and there’s been chats in the past and things like that – like there is with every driver, any time a contract comes to an end.

McLaren generally has always come out to be one of the best options that I could do. Both short-term and I guess at this current time, a longer-term thing. There are times I could have left and then McLaren could have done well-ish like into 2020-21, and you’d be like, ‘why? What a stupid move’.

“There haven’t been that many other opportunities to do a lot better. There’s been some opportunities here and there, but Ferrari has been pretty much booked. Mercedes has been pretty much booked. Red Bull, there’s always stuff going on. So there are always the little things but McLaren’s always ended up being the best option, that’s why I’m here still.

“Every year I’m here always adds to this story of me wanting to win more and more with the team and with McLaren because I think that makes it to be more deserving once the good times come.”

Norris is firmly embedded in McLaren, a team he clearly works well with. With their recent leap forward in performance this season, it is clear he is on the right trajectory to achieve his goals – although the team still needs to prove it can make that difficult final step required to become regular winners.

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But while being one of the most highly-regarded young drivers on the current grid with millions of followers and fans sounds like a dream come true, it’s not without its downsides. Especially when you become one of the most recognised young sports people on the planet.

“I would say that’s the worst thing of it all, just losing privacy,” he admits. “I saw Fernando Alonso did an interview the other day, he was asked what is the worst thing about it, and he said it was privacy. Just being able to walk around, not get judged by every single thing that you do in your life or say or a person you meet or whatever.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Monza, 2023
He will remain a McLaren driver until at least 2025
“There’s always a story because of it. I hate it and as much as I’ve grown up on social media and loved it in many ways. I’ve also learned to hate it in many ways and then to deal with it in many ways. It is just part of Formula 1 – any top sport in the world is a similar thing.”

From being recognised whenever he’s out in public to having everything he says online and in the media scrutinised, Norris says he’s learned to accept that sometimes people will just not always take everything he says or does in good faith.

“You just lose that sense of privacy where you can just go around and be incognito and not be noticed or judged by anything you do. And then sometimes it’s just one thing that you say that anyone else in the world says is fine. But then because you say it slightly at the wrong time or the media perceives it one way, it just turns into the biggest nonsense in the world. And then it makes you feel bad. Especially for me, I’ve always been very honest and truthful in the things I’ve said, which annoys a lot of people.

“But at the end of the day, I also realise more and more that I please the people I want to please. I wanted to make people proud who support me and know me. And if you don’t know me, and get annoyed to me about something I said or whatever, then probably don’t know me well enough.”

Although his story up to 2025 and beyond is yet to be written, much like many drivers on the grid, it is clear that Norris is well placed for greatness in the sport if he makes the right decisions. With the backing of a team like McLaren, and the current world champions reportedly keen to open negotiations, Norris will have no lack of choice when it comes to his next steps.

Yet, if he has to make a choice to move away from McLaren after his current contract, it will be difficult to judge who is best to go with for the major power unit change in 2026 – and it’s a call his long-term future is riding on.

‘Every year I’m here always adds to this story of me wanting to win more with McLaren’

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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32 comments on “‘I owe McLaren a lot, but not my life’ – Norris on reaching F1 and chasing his first win”

  1. Norris is so weird. He is often rude to his engineer on the radio and he just doesn’t express himself very well in interviews.
    I suppose we have got to cut him some slack as he is so young and sports people are not generally known for their eloquence (with some notable exceptions)

    1. Stephen Taylor
      7th September 2023, 13:10

      He’s only gives his engineer an earful when they get it wrong.

    2. I’m not sure Lando is that smart. And he’s also very juvenile.

      My daughter likes to watch the social media videos that McLaren put out, and Oscar is SO much more mature.

      But, Lando has become a pretty effective F1 driver, and that’s what matters at the end of the day.

      1. Stephen Taylor
        7th September 2023, 13:55

        I like the fact Lando is a big kid and is not afraid to be daft in public. Makes him unique amongst the current crop. He’s a maverick of the E-Sports generation.

      2. Yeah mate, he’s a quick driver for sure but it’s fair to say he’s probably not the sharpest tool in the shed. And that’s ok too.

        1. Stephen Taylor
          7th September 2023, 21:07

          He dropped out of of school before exams and had to be home tutored in Maths and Physics to get some qualifications.

    3. He’s referred to himself in past interviews as both an introvert and anxious, and that probably plays into it a lot more than him being “weird.” Given that he’s one of the most well-liked drivers by the other drivers on the grid who actually know him, it seems more like it’s his discomfort with the media piece of it (and the volume of hate he gets probably compounding on that). The comments when he accidentally broke Max’s trophy were absolutely insane, and there’s been a noticeable pull back from social media and almost an edge to him in interviews since then. It seems like that hate had more of an effect than people realized. I think F1 fans, when it comes to ALL drivers, need to consider that we’d all be way, way worse in these situations than they are and they’re all pretty young whose entire lives have built up to this. There’s just not really much grace given to any of them and it’s a level of scrutiny that would mess with anyone’s head.

    4. @pmccarthy_is_a_legend Norris has said several times that he thinks he’s talking normal on the radio, but when he listens to it back he sounds like a jerk—and he hates that but doesn’t know how to change it.

      So yeah, he’s aware of it. Cut him some slack.

  2. Stephen Taylor
    7th September 2023, 13:45

    People say Piastri is like Kimi . I think Piastri is like the Kimi from 2001 to mid 2008 . I think Lando is more like Kimi from mid-2008 onwards in terms of emotions . Piastri has the nature of a younger Kimi Lando like older Kimi.

  3. Stephen Taylor
    7th September 2023, 13:49

    Lando relax man you have the talent to be WDC.

  4. Coventry Climax
    7th September 2023, 14:12

    But: What on earth were you drinking there, in the picture?

    1. Possibly Kahlua, Baileys or the local Italian equivalent.

      1. Coventry Climax
        8th September 2023, 14:36

        Not in a glass like that, I’d say.
        Iced coffee is a possibility, with the dark spots being the ice.

  5. Russia 2021 was a missed opportunity for sure, but I wonder how he feels about Monza 2021. Ralf Schumacher was said to have been very angry about Jordan’s order not to race for the win at Spa 1998. It’s easy to see why McLaren made the call they made, but for a guy chasing his first win it must have been rather frustrating.

    Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see if Piastri can continue to get closer and perhaps start regularly outperforming Norris. It’s always seemed like Ricciardo’s stumbling inflated Norris’ stature, but so far he’s doing very well against one of the most exciting talents to enter F1 in recent years. Maybe even since Verstappen.

    1. Stephen Taylor
      7th September 2023, 16:01

      Well for start even if Piastri does keep improving I don’t see him walking all over Norris at all. Peoople forget although Lando Norris has been in F1 he still under the age of 25 so he like Piastri will get better. I think for one to regularly outperform the other will be a tall order for both of them actually . I think Lando certainly could have won races 2021 Spa where he was looking good pole in Q3 until . Pole would have given him the ‘win’ by default due to the ‘not a race’ behind the SC . The other one is of course is Sochi.

      1. It’s not age that defines if a driver will get better or not, it’s experience. Max is 25 and racing for his 9th season, do you think he has much more to improve from this? What he’ll have is more time racing on his prime, if he decides to stay for much longer.

        Norris is in his 5th season, he’s much closer to his ‘ceiling’ than Piastri, who just got there.

        1. Stephen Taylor
          7th September 2023, 17:20

          That comment is utter tripe from you with every year of experience every driver keeps improving. It doesn’t depend on just on experience it also depends on how fast your learning curve is. Lando’s is slower than OP but he is still an exceptional driver. Norris is still only 23 and will not peak until 28/29 at least he has a lot of scope and motivation to improve. Even if Oscar beats him it won’t be by a margin or because LN not top drawer but because Piastri is that good.

          1. You’re supposing way too much stuff.

        2. Stephen Taylor
          7th September 2023, 17:30

          On what basis am I unreasonably supposing things?

          1. Well, usually drivers don’t need that many years to reach their peak, these drivers are unusually young and it’s more reasonable to assume verstappen and norris peaked already, and they will stay at that level for a very long time since they’re so young.

          2. Stephen Taylor
            7th September 2023, 20:45

            (@esploratore1) What on earth are you on about ? No two drivers ever peak at the same time . Norris when he arrived in F1 was good but he was still quite raw and undercooked at 19 . Coming into F1 younger doesn’t mean you necessarily peak earlier . To say those things correlate is a lazy assumption.

    2. @MichaelN

      but I wonder how he feels about Monza 2021.

      It was never Lando’s to win. He may have thought he was faster at a particular time, while they were coasting to the finish, but they both tried to set fastest lap on the last lap, (which were race PB’s for both drivers) and Dan’s lap was 1.59 tenths quicker than Lando’s. Both final laps were between 4 and 5 tenths quicker than what they had been doing throughout the race.

      Anyway, upshot is I don’t think Lando should feel hard done by in Monza 2021, Dan’s one good day in 2 years at McLaren; I’ve always thought he drove better when he thought he had a car that could win.

      1. Sorry, tried to put a link to lap times from Monza 2021 and it looks like the link has covered my final comment!

        Anyway link here, (hopefully)

  6. Lando is an enigma, he comes across as dumb as a bunch of rocks sometimes (the recent Grill the Grid geography videos amongst others) but then he also seems like a really solid guy with well thought out perspectives on F1 in other places (this interview and also Beyond the Grid). It’s difficult to tell if he plays up the cool kid persona or if he is ‘street smart’ but struggles with more academic pursuits.

  7. Since Mclaren updated both cars to this new much more competitive spec, Piastri have been more than a match for Norris, just a tad bit more immature, something you’d expect for someone with only 12 race starts, so the actual results are a bit supbar in comparison yet.

    But for the first time since Sainz left, Norris have real competiton from his team mate and is probably feeling the heat already. So unless Piastri is some kind of genius, the reality is the one some of us has been telling for years : for whatever reason Ricciardo just couldn’t drive those cars, that’s what made Norris look so good. Now he has a proper team mate who will only get better. Let’s see how he and his stock react to it.

    1. Stephen Taylor
      7th September 2023, 17:04

      I think both will be fine and I don’t like this idea that Lando’s stock will plummet if Piastri edges him out. I don’t see OP even if he beats Lando destroying Lando’s career. I don’t see one driver hammering the other.

    2. Honestly it was pretty obvious ricciardo wasn’t performing at his peak while in mclaren, he was the worst or close to the worst driver of the season, is that the ricciardo you remember from red bull? Ofc not.

      I always rated norris highly, so it was a combination of the 2, ricciardo being well below his red bull level and norris being as strong as verstappen (possibly, would like to see him with the same car).

      1. It was obvious but incredibly there was people say that it happened just because Norris was that much better.

        Completely wrong take.

      2. May be your wish will be come true as Red Bull stil search for a good number 2 driver and already showed interest in Lando. If McLaren update didn’t came through i am sure he was driving Red Bull next year..

  8. I recall Sochi 2021 when majority of the crowd (except Lewis fans of course) cheered for Lando’s win and there was a huge cry of disappointment which I think he could hear even through his helmet when he didn’t pitted. He needs much more experience but hasn’t showed a maturity since that Sochi 2021 failure.

    1. Stephen Taylor
      7th September 2023, 21:04

      I disagree I think he’s been as patient and mature as one could reasonanbly expect.

  9. A really nice interview. Lando seems to be a very authentic person and I guess growing up with social media and becoming a public figure at the same
    time is a very tricky thing – I can see how the whole life versus work (career) balance might get easily lost. I hope it doesn’t take it’s toll and I wish people would be a bit more mindful – in general.

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