Norris waits for F1 win amid newcomer success
Lando Norris is waiting for his first Formula One victory, and it may take a very long time. Norris may eventually lose hope, especially when he sees other drivers winning who have just arrived in Formula One.
Upon witnessing George Russell’s first Formula 1 win on his 81st attempt, did Lando Norris experience a sense of pride in a fellow contemporary breaking through the success barrier in F1, or did he feel jealous?
Yes, that’s correct. Norris and Russell both made their Formula 1 debut in the same season and have had a similar number of starts, however, their careers in the sport have had distinct trajectories.
Yes, you are correct. Russell struggled in Formula 1 for three seasons while driving for a team with a subpar car, but he had a breakthrough year in 2022 when he joined one of the top teams in the sport. On the other hand, Norris joined a competitive mid-field team, but the team’s performance has since plateaued.
Yes, that is correct. Norris has many reasons to be satisfied with his situation as he is part of a McLaren team that has supported his career from the beginning and is determined to keep him. The CEO of McLaren, Zak Brown, recently stated that Norris is a “franchise driver” who would easily compete with the best drivers in Formula 1 even if everyone was driving the same vehicles.
Unfortunately, in Formula 1, Norris is not competing against drivers such as Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton, and George Russell in off-road vehicles. This means that Norris is heavily dependent on the technical capabilities of the McLaren team, which currently lags behind top teams such as Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, and possibly even Alpine.
It is clear to those who are closely following the sport that Norris is a highly talented driver who has been able to make the most out of the recent series of challenging McLaren cars. His ability to adapt to and handle cars that have been exhibiting erratic behavior as they navigate turns has elevated him to a level that even a skilled driver like Daniel Ricciardo was unable to reach.
Norris’s close friend and rival, Max Verstappen, who has been enjoying success lately thanks to Red Bull’s mastery of the current technical regulations, also believes that Norris would be at the forefront of the competition if he were given the right car.
McLaren is relying heavily on Norris’s exceptional talent to overcome its aerodynamic limitations. Despite being only 23 years old, the past season must have been mentally and physically taxing for Norris as a driver.
Norris has spoken about the amount of effort he had to put in to make the previous year’s McLaren work for him, refuting the idea that McLaren simply designed the car around him because of his long association with the team. He expressed some frustration with the situation, which is understandable.
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The statement implies that Norris has had to work hard to extract performance from McLaren’s car, rather than being given a car with exceptional engineering. This raises the question of what level he could reach if he had a more manageable car and how much more potential he could tap into if McLaren could build cars with a broader range of performance capabilities.
McLaren needs to be cautious in not squandering Norris’s potential in the same way it did with Alonso. The team may have become a bit overconfident after its successful results at the end of the previous regulations cycle in 2021, when Ricciardo won a race and Norris was close to doing the same.
The failure to have its new wind tunnel operational before the implementation of the new regulations in 2022, along with Pirelli’s understeering new tires that added to the confusion, has made it challenging for McLaren to make the progress that Norris deserves in the near future. This is crucial in demonstrating that the team fully recognizes its current limitations.
McLaren’s primary deficiency is in aerodynamics and not having its new wind tunnel available in time for the current car. While the team has recognized where the problem lies, they may not have fully determined the root cause of it.
The limitations of the past two cars were slightly distinct, but both were primarily due to a lack of aerodynamics and not delivering the expected performance on the track compared to what was predicted in the wind tunnel.
Norris overcomes this by being more sensitive to the shift in the corner, allowing him to adjust the weight distribution on each tire and have a better understanding of the car’s initial rotation.
That’s the distinction between the best drivers and the good ones. Norris has the potential to be among the very best and may already be demonstrating that level of skill. It’s unfortunate that he’s with McLaren during this period of change, as the team works towards becoming a top-performing outfit once again.
However, I’m not very hopeful. I’d like to be proven wrong, but I don’t think McLaren will recover with a fantastic car in 2023. I believe it may take a bit longer than that.
Given the rapid investments being made by ambitious teams such as Aston Martin and Sauber/Audi to move further up the grid, and the upward trajectory of Alpine/Renault, McLaren is at risk of becoming stagnant or even regressing if it doesn’t find a solution.
Norris has said he’s prepared to be patient – to wait for the new windtunnel and simulation tools to take McLaren forward in 2024 and beyond. Honda might be the last piece of the puzzle in convincing him to stick around for the longer term.
But given where McLaren is now that’s still a gamble. In the meantime, drivers Norris should by rights be battling with will be racking up more big results at his expense. A driver as good as Norris shouldn’t, and probably won’t, stand for that.
There is a possibility that Honda will come to the rescue in 2026. Although their previous partnership with McLaren did not go well, the team has changed significantly with new leadership and a more humble approach. Honda, on the other hand, has become a confident and successful entity. But, will the time spent outside the spotlight of F1 be costly for McLaren?
Norris has stated that he’s willing to be patient and wait for McLaren to make progress with new wind tunnel and simulation technology in 2024 and beyond. Honda may be the factor that convinces him to stay with the team in the long run.
However, this remains a risk considering McLaren’s current situation. In the meantime, drivers who Norris should be competing against will be collecting more significant results at his expense. A driver of Norris’ caliber won’t tolerate that for long.
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