“I’ve definitely been at my best in terms of performance”: Norris on his 2023 season

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When Lando Norris started the 2023 Formula 1 season unable to reach Q3 or score points, he did not expect McLaren would become a consistent podium threat by the end of it.

Although he ended the year sixth in the championship standings, Norris finished second to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in five grands prix: Nobody else was as frequent a rival to this year’s dominant champion.

Thoughts of such results were far from his mind early in the year as he contemplated what looked likely to be a season far from the pace.

“The beginning was tough because I didn’t know… I thought it was going to be for the whole year, in a way,” Norris admitted. “We didn’t know how much we were going to improve, especially at the very beginning.

“Of course we said ‘we’ll be a bit patient and we know we’ve got some decent things coming.’ But in the past few years, when we’ve had decent things come, they’ve not always stood up to be that much of an improvement. This year was quite the opposite and turned out to be almost a bigger improvement than we were expecting.

“But it was tough. You never want to start the season thinking ‘wow, I’ve got 23 races to go and I can’t even get out of Q1’. It’s tough knowing that and thinking that so early on in the season. It just makes you think ‘damn, it’s going to be a hell of a long, long year’.”

Being so far off the pace at the beginning of the season meant the team made sure it maximised the potential of its car, which stood them in good stead after their breakthrough with the MCL60, said Norris.

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“I think what set us up very well is that it made everyone work very hard to try and achieve everything you could with a bad car. Which then set us up very nicely for when we eventually had a good car.

Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, Interlagos, 2023
Norris named Brazilian GP as one of his strongest drives
“I think we’ve been one of the best teams – maybe not so much after Vegas, but apart from that – of maximising points every weekend and reliability. Everything else on top of just having a quick car, I think we’ve been very good at.

“Being in a bad position at the start of the year always helps this a little bit, because you realise sometimes when you’re quick, a lot of things are easy and they come easily and you kind of forget sometimes the smaller things. When you’re struggling, every little tiny, small thing is almost more important. And therefore you utilise them more.

“So when you have a quick car, you kind of have a quick car and you’re utilising a lot of stuff. So I think it set us up nicely. But then there’s other things you’ve got to prepare for when you’re fighting at the top. It’s a different race when you’re fighting there, comparing to at the back. So, emotionally, I’m proud of the whole team that they did such a big turnaround.”

Norris’ biggest points haul came at the Brazilian Grand Prix, where he was sprint race runner-up then finished second with fastest lap in the grand prix itself. He said the latter was “one of my best races.”

“It may not look it, just from not a lot going on, but in terms of the gap to everyone else and with just one car ahead, I think it was a pretty good race,” he explains.

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Mexico was also “a very good race,” he added, though his long struggle to adapt McLaren’s cars to his style of driving is ongoing. “I think I’ve definitely been at my best in terms of performance. Maybe not the beginning of the year, but I worked quite a bit on trying to still adapt to this car because it’s not an easy car.

“There’s still things every weekend that I struggle with, but I spent the first part of the season maybe still not in the right space. Still how I want to drive quickly is the opposite of how this car wants to be driven. And so my natural thing of going out and driving, qualifying as best as I would want, is not how the car needs to be driven.

“I set off to change a little bit how I have to drive the car. And that’s still been happening this year. But since I would say the halfway point of the season I felt more confident and I feel like, especially from a racing perspective, I’ve been getting the most out of the car.”

Never one to hold back with his self-criticism, Norris admitted he had missed out on opportunities to give himself a more favourable starting position for some grands prix.

“I made a few too many mistakes in qualifying, which I think have been obvious and I’ve acknowledged,” he said. “But I definitely think I’ve had some of my best races I’ve ever done.”

After Norris ran McLaren’s upgraded car for the first time at the Austrian Grand Prix, he delivered points every weekend with one exception: The Las Vegas Grand Prix, where he crashed out early on. But Norris believes such mistakes are rare for him.

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“I’ve been one of the best drivers in terms of avoiding things, even in the last five years,” he said. “I’d say one of my strengths is staying out of trouble a lot of the time.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t just like a careless mistake [in Las Vegas], it wasn’t like I locked up and driven into someone, it was just a very unlucky moment. A shame. But it happens. It was my first crash, really, since Spa in 2021.”

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Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...
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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5 comments on ““I’ve definitely been at my best in terms of performance”: Norris on his 2023 season”

  1. Now for a race win, Lando

    1. Still a long way to go to top the Hulk or de Cesaris who are over 200 by now

  2. He had some dips in performance. Either pushed by Piastri or by putting himself under pressure. Lets see if he can maintain a high level consistently, not convinced yet.

    1. His race performance was exceptional though.

  3. He is excellent at throwing away things when it matters.

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