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Lando Norris: the next wasted talent?

Updated: Dec 5, 2023



A driver on the current Formula One grid that often gets criminally undermentioned for his performances, is Lando Norris. From nearly missing out on a race win in 2021, Norris is falling further back in the grid, but not for a lack of talent or consistency — far from it. A team which, in 2020 finished third in the standings, now finds itself once again in a sharp decline, which seems to be heading towards a time reminiscent of its nightmarish Honda days, and has become a thorn in Norris’ climb to the upper echelons of Formula One drivers. McLaren’s painful admission of missing out on 2023 development targets, adding to an already relatively dismal 2022 season, only seems to be pushing Norris away from McLaren and deeper into the driver market, not to mention the moving of Andreas Seidl to the Sauber team, being the man behind Norris’ entry into McLaren in the first place. As it stands, Norris risks becoming a statistical also-ran, relative to the raw talent that he possesses, which rings many bells to numerous drivers in times past, who never achieved the numbers that their speed and raw talent pointed to.


 

The Journey So Far…

Norris made his Formula One debut with his current team, McLaren in 2019 at the Australian Grand Prix. Since then, Norris has garnered a strong reputation among peers and fans alike for being an extremely talented and dependable driver to deliver solid and often under the radar performances, with relatively less competitive machinery when compared to the top teams. Even when the car was relatively dismal, such as in 2022, Norris would manage to bring out more than 100% of the car’s performance, including a shock podium finish in Imola, being the only driver outside the top three teams to do so.

While, his initial years saw him finish below, then teammate, Carlos Sainz in the standings, he more than matched the Spaniard on a number of occasions, and sometimes was better overall as well. This was all the more on display in 2021, when Norris finally came into his own, and wiped the floor in terms of points compared to his much more experienced teammate, Daniel Ricciardo — a trend that continued into the following season.


At Monza, he finished McLaren’s first 1-2 finish since 2011, and, in the very next race obtained his maiden pole position. Although he unfortunately missed out on a race win due to fatal error in judgement from his own end, his ability to hold off Lewis Hamilton was nothing short of commendable. Norris maintained a best of the rest spot in 2022, and once again being the only driver outside the top three team’s drivers to obtain more than a 100 points.


2023 Begins…

As Norris heads into his fifth season in Formula One and with McLaren, the future has never looked more bleak for the Brit as it does now. McLaren have had a simply dismal testing session relative to what they were hoping for. Norris had even been reported to have ‘punched a wall in frustration’ after a frustrating afternoon. Signs like this only point to cracks and later, potential fracture in the relationship that both driver and team have worked so long and hard to nurture.

It is clear that McLaren have astronomically blundered, by going on a junior program expansion spree, that saw drivers across disciplines joining the McLaren fold, which in my opinion, took away valuable time and resources that McLaren should have been more prudent with, by directing it towards developing their car for this year. Instead, McLaren are stuck with an immensely large driver lineup, which they overpaid, as well as fought unnecessary contract battles for, along with an uncompetitive car which they may barely end up driving.


Norris’ Next Move

Norris now looks more and more on the radar for other teams, but in my opinion, if there is one team that stands to have the highest chance of roping in Norris to drive for them, it is Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton’s inevitable retirement in the next couple of years should provide Norris the perfect gateway he needs to get into the competitive, championship-winning team he so desperately desires. Mercedes and their reputed work ethic, combined with Norris’ ability to squeeze out performance from almost any machinery, is an almost guaranteed success story.


If not to Mercedes, should that seat be taken by Charles LeClerc, another name which has been floated around to replace the seven-time world champion, Ferrari are reported to do everything in their power to bring in Norris. Although a bit less likely than the above theory, it would be no surprise should events play out as shown. Norris joining the Scuderia, and a possible return of the beloved ‘CarLando’ pairing of Carlos Sainz and Norris, should the Spaniard retain his seat at the prancing horses, could very well fill in the necessary gaps left by the Monegasque’s departure. However, this is all still speculation, and with the drivers only now nearing the stipulated end of their respective contracts, it is still quite early to have a really solid idea of nature of the driver market at the time.


Concluding Thoughts

Lando Norris is an absolutely brilliant driver, who has unfortunately been dealt a bad hand by Lady Luck, and by McLaren, which through a series of bad decisions, have left Norris groping in the dark, in terms of having a competitive enough car to showcase his talent to the world. Unless McLaren seriously rethink their decision-making, and rejuvenate their technical department with greater focus on creating a more competitive car, and season-wide package development, they stand the risk of losing perhaps one of their greatest chances at a world championship in years. Norris meanwhile must be more and more demanding from the team to deliver him a decent enough package to compete in the upper midfield at least, if not fight for podiums and wins, like he once was able to. Until he gets a competitive enough car, whether or not it is from McLaren, Norris must focus on constantly improving his race-craft and overall consistency, and keep his eyes peeled on the next big opportunity on the grid.

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