What a twelve months it has been for young English driver Lando Norris. This time in 2016 he was still basking in the glow of his dominant Toyota Racing Series triumph. With this and a MSA Formula title to his name, he had cemented himself as one of Britain’s best young drivers. In the space of a year he has gone from this to an internationally recognised talent with a reputation which has now caught the attention of the Formula One paddock.
As he prepares for his debut campaign in the intensely competitive FIA European F3 championship, he has now been signed by one of the biggest F1 teams who are steeped in history. Norris has joined the McLaren junior driver programme, one which has previously produced the likes of Nick Heidfeld and most famously, Lewis Hamilton. With such talented alumni Norris is hoping he can match the achievements of both these drivers and carve out a long term F1 career for himself.At one stage it seemed McLaren had found their drivers of the future. The team nurtured Kevin Magnussen to Formula One and now have done the same for Stoffel Vandoorne. Whilst things have now gone pear shaped when they, inexplicably in this writers opinion, let go of Magnussen there now appears a future space will become available with the team in the coming years.
Superstar double world champion Fernando Alonso will turn 36 this season, and whilst he is still performing at his best it’s unlikely he will still be with the team by the turn of the new decade. If Vandoorne lives up to his considerable promise he appears set for a long and very successful career with the team, and based on current reputation Norris could well have the same success with the team.
Norris caught the attention of everyone within European single seater racing by winning three championships and scooping the highly prestigious BRDC McLaren/Autosport award. His domination of both the prestigious Formula Renault Eurocup and Northern European Cup as a rookie were particular highlights, with the Eurocup seen as the premier stepping stone to F3 and higher categories.
Not content with this he also dipped a toe in the water of F3 after winning the two Formula Renault titles. With only one weekend’s racing at the final FIA European F3 round, he impressed a lot of people with his performance at the Macau Grand Prix, known as the F3 World Cup. It’s list of winners includes greats such as Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard and is regarded as the best race circuit in the world by a large majority of the drivers who have raced there.
He was right in the hunt in the final qualifying session before a small mistake put him in the wall as he slipped to ninth in the final minutes when the track was at it’s best. From here a qualifying race crash he was caught up in eliminated him on the first lap, putting him 27th for the final. In only 15 laps on a circuit which was notoriously difficult to pass at, Norris used considerable race craft and took advantage of others mistakes to finish a very impressive 11th.
Whilst this result will have not grabbed any headlines, the people in the know recognised what an impressive drive this had been from the 17 year-old Brit. All of this in only his second weekend of F3 racing also. Completing this year was his prestigious BRDC McLaren/Autosport award. Competing against three of the top young British drivers in a shootout in three different cars, it was the youngest driver who took home the award.
He won a prize McLaren F1 test and a paid role as simulator driver, and this is likely where the ball started rolling with him joining the team. Certainly when I interviewed him last November he mentioned there had been some contact with F1 teams, but he was keeping his options open for the future.
Many drivers have been labelled with the tag of the next best thing before fading away, however with Norris it appears the hype is justified. Whilst it’s impossible to predict accurately if a driver can become an F1 champion or not in their junior career, so far Norris has passed every test put in front of him. He has won at every level from becoming karting world champion in 2013, through MSA Formula (now known as FIA British F4, the premier entry level category for wannabe F1 drivers), and most recently Formula Renault.
So just how far can Norris go? After presenting him with the award BRDC president and former F1 driver Derek Warwick declared Norris a future world champion in the making. High praise indeed from a distinguished F1 driver and former World Sportscar champion Warwick. In the statement that announced his signing McLaren executive director Zak Brown regarded Norris as a tremendous young talent.
Norris will have to fight off fellow McLaren junior drivers Nobuharu Matsushita, racing in GP2, and Nyck de Vries, programme as yet unannounced, although if he remains on his current path McLaren may find it’s impossible to keep him from putting him in one of their F1 race seats in the next few years.
The young Brit is now in the perfect position to develop his career and reach his goal of Formula One. Should he maintain his current level of success he will undoubtedly reach and likely excel in F1. McLaren proved the key launching pad for Britain’s last superstar F1 world champion, Lewis Hamilton, they may well have just found the next one and perfect man to take over his mantle. What a twelve months it indeed has been for Lando Norris.
Any thoughts on the young Brit Lando Norris? Please feel free to comment below giving your thoughts and thank you for reading! Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.