Lando Norris: A Feature

Lando Norris is a spoilt teenager who is indulging his passion thanks to daddy’s money. At least that’s what some fans and people in the paddock may assume. They may label him selfish or ungrateful. After all, just look at his father’s success and his upbringing.

His father Adam Norris sits equal 501st on the 2016 Sunday Times Rich List, having a net worth of £207 million from the financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown and his investment company Horatio. This money has proved a massive help but also in some aspects a hindrance to his son’s career. Motorsport is a juxtaposition as increasingly major financial backing is needed for young drivers to progress to Formula One, yet when a young driver already has that backing they are labelled a pay driver. Whilst Norris has not yet been fully tarred with this brush, much like recently promoted F1 driver Lance Stroll questions linger as to his ultimate potential.

At age 17 it has been a life of privilege so far for young Lando. Born and raised in the village of Glastonbury, his father’s success with the financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown have allowed him some of the finer things in life. He was educated at Millfield, who for a mere £35 000 pounds a year will give your child the finest education money can buy from the ages of two right through to age 18.

He has only recently turned 17 on November 13th, and yet he has already been racing cars for three years. He made his debut in a 150MPH Formula Three Dallara at the end of October, yet he could only start learning to drive a month later. To insure him to drive on the road would cost £9000, yet for his family this is not an issue.

So, for a lot of you reading you may assume the stereotype is true. He’s your typical rich kid who gets everything he wants. What does he know about real life? In fact, this could not be further from the truth. He is a wise head on young shoulders, and gives off the impression as a remarkably calm and down to earth young man. There is no element of aloofness or ego that come across when chatting to him, even though his exemplary junior racing CV would allow him to get away with having one.

“yeah that’s the aim is to win championships in Formula One”. These are lofty goals for a 17-year-old, but Norris is no ordinary 17-year-old. He’s already been a karting world champion and is coming off a 2016 season where he won an astonishing three junior championships, ranging from New Zealand to Central Europe.

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Lando cemented himself as one of the rising stars of karting from a young age, culminating in world title triumphs in both 2013 and 2014. Photo copyright CIK/KSP.

As the sun shines down on a mild Friday afternoon in November, the sounds of the passing lorries on a busy A road dominate the air. Looking across at the sign for Coxbridge Business Park the silver letters reflect in your eyes when meeting their gaze. Here in a nondescript business park in a town which prides itself as having won an in-bloom award, it almost seems like it can’t be the right place. Walking along the winding road is industrial units for every trade imaginable, but reaching the far corner of the park hides a cornerstone of British motorsport. As employee’s hose down the race trucks I’m met with the sight of an all-glass foyer and adjoining race bays tell me I’m at the right place without even looking at the signs. Here is Carlin Motorsport, one of the most important junior racing team on the planet.

Getting set up in the conference room it’s impossible to miss the success of this team. Lining every flat surface is trophies of all shapes of sizes, ranging from former F1 driver Jean Eric Vergne’s 2010 British F3 trophy to various GP3 and Macau Grand Prix trophies. And that is exactly why I’m here. His busy schedule ensures it’s here that I meet Norris, as he takes a break from simulator sessions, prepping himself for the F3 World Cup on the streets of Macau.

Norris was interested in motorbikes initially “before I was seven I was into motorbikes and I had a motorbike when I was six, my hero at the time was Valentino Rossi, so I watched quite a bit of the MotoGP.” His interest in motorsport however wasn’t sparked until a chance opportunity aged seven. “One day after school my dad took me to the local kart track which was Clay Pigeon, because it was the national championships in karting, I said that I wanted to have a go, and yeah I think then for my seventh birthday I got a Bambino go-kart and I guess it basically all started from there.”

He still holds the record for being the youngest karter to secure a pole position at a national karting meeting, but strangely enough for someone so talented he was not obsessed with the sport growing up. “I wasn’t hugely into motor racing when I was younger, I never really watched every Formula One race, I just watched a few, from when I started karting I started watching more and more and got more interested in Formula One.”

Things moved quickly for Norris and by the end of 2013 he could call himself a karting world champion at the tender age of thirteen. He won both the 2013 CIK-FIA European KF Junior championship along with the world title in Bahrain, but for Norris it was winning the senior world championship a year later which he holds up as a career highlight up to date. “I think the main one for me was probably the world championship in karting, I wasn’t the fastest at all really on that weekend, I was just pretty good but we basically never gave up, kept fighting throughout the weekend, and yeah I mean obviously to come away as a world champion.” At this point he pauses and allows a broad smile to creep onto his face as he reflects on his achievement before adding “is something pretty cool to have your name on”.

The 2014 season was a busy one for Norris, who was combining his final season of karting with his debut season in cars. He stepped up to the Ginetta Junior Series, specifically aimed at 14-17 year olds. Stepping up with champion team HHC Motorsport he acquitted himself very well, taking four wins and eight poles to end the year second in the points, although he would drop to third once dropped scores had been taken.

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Celebrating his debut title in British F4 in 2015, so far winning has proved a habit for Lando. Photo copyright FIA Formula 4.

A switch to single seaters was always on the cards for 2015, as he switched across to the inaugural season of the new MSA Formula series, the UK equivalent of the FIA F4 entry level concept. Joining a high profile experienced team in Carlin proved an inspired move as he found himself in a title battle all year with Ricky Collard. Norris eventually sealed the title with a victory in the first race of the final weekend, ending the year with eight wins as he firmly put himself on the radar with such an impressive debut season in single seaters.

2016 started with a trip down under for the Toyota Racing Series, a long running national championship in New Zealand which in the last decade has attracted an increasing number of young drivers from around the world, all looking for extra track time in the winter of the European season. This is something Norris admits attracted him to the series’ “I think the reason I did it last year was, it’s pretty much one of the only things you can really do during the winter, especially racing wise.” The trip proved worthwhile for Norris as he proved himself the class of the field, taking six wins from 15 races, including the prestigious New Zealand Grand Prix which boasts former winners such as Stirling Moss, Graham Hill and Keke Rosberg.

Norris returned to Europe ready to take on a season in Formula Renault and BRDC F3, a lot for such a young driver. The Formula Renault campaign took priority however the BRDC series would also prove useful. “the whole purpose of doing the BRDC races was more track time and it’s a very competitive series there’s obviously a lot of good drivers in it, and it’s a new car, so it helps me learn how to adapt from one car to the other. I think all together it was the track time and more experience in racing and everything which was the reason of doing the BRDC F3.” Four wins and eight podiums from eleven races proved his adaptability, having served its purpose.

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Norris on route to one of his four poles in a partial BRDC British F3 campaign in 2016. Photo copyright BRDC F3.

Formula Renault would prove more of a challenge. A dual campaign in the centre piece Eurocup and regional Northern European Cup was a major challenge for a driver in his first year of the category. “the plan was always to do the Renault, it’s obviously a very competitive series and obviously quite a bit of track time in both series so I think overall Renault was definitely the right decision to do, and you know obviously, we got to go to Monaco this year, which was definitely very cool, very different to anything I’ve ever done.” The smile and excitement that creep into his voice as he mentions Monaco shows the passion he has now for the history of the sport.

What followed next was a season unlike other in Formula Renault since it established itself as the single seater benchmark in the mid-2000’s. Five wins and twelve podiums in Eurocup was matched by six wins and eleven podiums in the NEC series, resulting in a double championship win that impressed a lot of people within the motorsport community. Whilst from the outside it didn’t seem as if he had any hiccups all year, for Lando it was a lot different.

He secured the Eurocup title at Spa with a round to spare, but he very nearly didn’t race at all thanks to a mystery injury. “On Sunday I had a bad neck injury and I was not expecting to even go out for the race, we were probably going to sit it out or sit qualifying out and maybe do the race, but probably just leave it until the last round. “

“We thought we would give it a go so I would do a few laps or just a lap to see what it was like in qualifying and we had to put all the pads in on my neck just so it kind of didn’t move at all which is very different to how I normally drive, it was very weird to get used to a different driving style. I really, really struggled on the first lap, I came on the radio and said I have to box I couldn’t, I couldn’t do it anymore, but as soon as a bit of adrenaline starting to kick in, you just forget about it,, it kind of goes to the back of your head, and yeah I think I ended up P4,P5 or P6 I can’t remember, but I was even more surprised by that because I was only like two tenths off pole.”

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Norris about to enter the daunting Eau Rouge at Spa in a crucial Eurocup weekend. Lando was able to win the title, however he came close to sitting out with a neck injury. Photo copyright Diederik van der Laan/Dutch Photo Agency.

Things were not much easier come the race in the afternoon “I still really struggled but I think I kind of didn’t give up and I beat Max Defourny in both, not in qualifying but in the race, and ended up winning the championship on that weekend so I think that was definitely one of the hardest weekend’s I’ve had.”

With the Formula Renault titles secured Norris progressed up to Formula Three for the end of year F3 World Cup at Macau. With experience from the final FIA European F3 series round Norris impressed all weekend, running in the top ten for most sessions, before an opening lap accident during the qualifying race ruined any chances of a great result. Starting 27th, Norris still managed to salvage some pride with a brilliant drive to finish eleventh, a very impressive result considering Macau is notoriously difficult to pass on.

Sandwiching Macau was the hugely prestigious BRDC McLaren/Autosport award, where four of the U. K’s best young drivers are pitted against each other in a Mercedes DTM car, McLaren 650S GT3 and a F2 car. All of them provide a stern challenge for the young drivers and from here the expert judging panel look for anyone who stands out.

The great and good of the motorsport world gathered in London on December 4th to celebrate the season, with the most nervous people in the room being the four nominees for the McLaren/Autosport award. With a prize including a maiden Formula One test and paid simulator role with McLaren, it was with great anticipation that Norris was announced as the winner, joining the likes of David Coulthard and Jenson Button on the winners list.

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Norris tackling the world’s most demanding street circuit in Macau, in only his second F3 race he rose from 27th to 11th against the best F3 drivers in the world. A promising sign for 2017 and his FIA European F3 campaign. Photo copyright James Gasperotti/ JGP Motorsport Images.

A perfect season for Lando is now ending, and thoughts are moving towards the 2017 season. In the run up to Christmas it was announced that he will be stepping up to the FIA European F3 championship next year with Carlin, a team he is comfortable with. “I have a great history with them over the past two years, and yeah I basically grew up in car racing effectively with them so they’re definitely a good bunch of guys I get along with.”

After such an impressive season for Lando it’s no surprise he is attracting interest from Formula One, with teams keen to add him to their junior driver programmes, but for now he remains focused on his own racing. “I’ve been in contact with a couple of teams but it’s not kind of been anything serious. I’m happy leaving it till next year, where we really kind of try to get on board or in contact with some serious teams, but yeah I think it’s possibly a bit early now to do anything.”

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Lando Norris and his closest friends and family embrace after being announced as the winner of the 2016 BRDC McLaren/Autosport Award. Photo copyright LAT Photographic.

It’s clear that Norris is currently on course to realise a dream and reach Formula One as he ascends the single seater ladder. With his father’s financial backing he can focus on his driving, something that he is clearly very talented at. Whilst it’s easy to make the comparison with new Williams driver Lance Stroll because of their record of winning everywhere they have gone, in my opinion Norris has a higher ceiling than the Canadian. To win two Formula Renault titles in your rookie season is unprecedented whilst his outings in F3 so far have proved he can step up to an even higher category. McLaren will be watching intently when he earns his test prize next year, who knows where it may lead.

So just how good can Lando Norris be? Former grand prix driver and world sportscar champion Derek Warwick outlined his thoughts when handing Norris the award “this guy has got a great career in front of him, we’ve got a future Formula One driver, and even a future world champion.”

By Jordan Wilkins

 

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