BusyFormula #024: Pay attention! We’re right in Lando’s Roaring ’20s

Don’t let the openly friendly baby face fool you. When the lights go out on Sunday, Lando Norris releases the clutch with the pinpoint precision of a well-seasoned racer. The Englishman shoots for the first corner with a solid singular thought, getting ahead of any and all cars ahead of him.

Now in the third year of his stint at the McLaren F1 team, Norris has consistently caught the eye, prompting whispers in the paddock about the genuine possibility of him being a future world champion.

Similar sentiments are shared by fans in the grandstand and those scattered all over the world. And why wouldn’t they? His performances, particularly in the ongoing 2021 season, have surpassed rookies, vets and former world champions alike.

One thing’s evident; we might need to add “x-time World Champion” as a prefix to Lando Norris’ name at some point in the next decade of Formula One racing.

All that glistens, just might be LN4

McLaren’s golden boy hasn’t had everything handed to him on a platter. Far from it. In fact, the British-Belgian had to slog through the various levels of elite driving to become a household name at the sport’s zenith.

Like the vast majority of the current crop of F1 drivers, Lando Norris cut his teeth strapped into a go-kart, hurling himself into corners, riding a cheery adrenaline wave. Throwing himself entirely into racing, Lando sent ripples through the karting world.

Aged 10, racing against a mostly older field, Lando was the youngest driver to claim pole position at a national meeting – a record that still stands to this day. It’s no wonder, therefore, that he went on to bag the Super One Series’ ‘O’ Plate a year later and added the 2012 Formula Kart Stars gong to his burgeoning collection.

Said collection includes second position in the 2012 MSA Super One British Championship, the 2013 CIK-FIA Europe KFJ title and CIK-KIA Euroseries KFJ top spot in the same year, beating out current Haas F1 team driver Nikita Mazepin.

This ravenous hunger for trophies saw Lando reel in the title for the premier senior version of the CIK-FIA World KF in 2014, following in the footsteps of 7-time F1 world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton. The following year saw him capture the British Formula 4 championship.

Gold takes on a papaya orange sheen

2016 was particularly impressive, with the budding English motor talent bagging the Renault 2.0 Eurocup and NEC, as well as the Toyota Racing Series. So, winning the British Racing Driver and McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the year raised nary an eyebrow.

2017 saw Lando continue ripping up the European tarmac, with the then 18-year-old becoming the youngest FIA Formula 3 champion.

The talent was there for all to see. And McLaren F1 team didn’t waste any time snapping him up as their 2018 test and reserve driver. Carlin Racing strapped him into a seat for their 2018 Formula 2 charge, where he narrowly lost out to fellow British phenom George Russell.

McLaren had seen enough, though, and promoted him to full-time driver for the 2019 Formula 1 season. Despite a stuttering start to life in the rarefied air of F1 racing, the Englishman has propelled the papaya orange car back to its world championship relevancy of old.

And speaking of…

Midas at the wheel

Mr. Norris might not be the proverbial Midas, but whenever he grips his steering wheel in earnest, he’s capable of producing some truly golden moments. Simply put, Lando’s performances in the MCL35M have been nothing short of stellar.

Heading into the 2021 F1 championship season, pundits and fans widely assumed that Lando might play second fiddle to his teammate. After all, he was up against 7-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo who jumped the seemingly sinking Renault ship.

The experience and racecraft scales were heavily tilted in the Australian’s favor. The first two races seemed to back this up when Daniel out-qualified his teammate in Bahrain and Imola.

But this is F1; all that counts for naught if you don’t show up on Sunday afternoon. And young Lando was ready to demonstrate this with seeming ease.

What pundits thought would be a young driver overshadowed by his more exuberant, more experienced teammate was instead a different person altogether. Because when the lights went out over the course of the season, Lando called upon his Midas personality and laid down some rubber with the golden consistency of a seasoned vet.

Ricciardo has out-qualified his teammate a grand total of 6 times out of the 14 possible instances so far this season. However, Lando has managed to maneuver around and finish ahead of his teammate 3 out of those 6 times.

And in so doing, he’s jumped onto the podium 4 times compared to his teammate’s 1 – albeit a race win. These champagne-popping trips have hauled Lando into fourth in the drivers’ championship standings behind Valterri Bottas’ similarly-powered W12.

Consequently, McLaren finds itself slotting in third behind RedBull in the constructors’ standings, with the fiery prancing horses breathing down their neck in the best-of-the-rest scuffle.

Tapping into the gold vein for years ahead

Norris has managed to consistently foil the strategic plans of the top 2 teams in a theoretically lesser car. And that’s not to say he’s only managed to claim podiums and higher finishes than Bottas and Sergio Perez by only benefiting from in-race incidents. Far from it, the young British driver has, more often than not, outraced those around him with more tremendous success.

And this hasn’t gone unnoticed, with such performances slightly piquing the interest of several teams on the business end of the championship log.

McLaren realizes they’re sitting on a mound of gold dust and are keen to tap into that vein for the next decade as the new regulations take effect. It’s no surprise, therefore, that team CEO Zak Brown whipped out a multi-year contract to keep the talent in Woking.

With the cost cap and new regs, speculating on the grid outlook is purely just that; speculation. We’ll have a clearer picture of that as the final two weeks of February 2022 unfold on the tarmac in Barcelona and Bahrain.

A new golden age?

And even after all that, Lando Norris will have to contend with a crop of young, hungry and vastly capable competition. The Brit happens to have come of age in a generation of young drivers that have all shown glimpses of what they can do under the halo.

On the one hand, Max Verstappen is still very much of the young generation, despite his vast experience at the pinnacle of motor racing. On the other, Ferrari has placed its F1 racing future in the hands of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. Talent and pedigree.

George Russell had a weekend in the W11. Here, he showed he can be more than comfortable in well-oiled machinery at the top end of the grid. And his “Mr. Saturday” moniker isn’t one to stick past this season. But, of course, he’ll have his say on Sundays, too. After all, he’s scored the lion’s share of Williams points, including an unlikely podium finish.

Yes, the youth will still have to contend with the racing wiles of seasoned operators for the foreseeable future. Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Ricciardo and Perez will still impact proceedings in the next couple of years or so.

To rip up the status quo, the youngins will have to achieve complete mastery of the ever-increasing responsibility under their right foot when the lights go out on Sunday. Sooner rather than later.

Mark B. Mugaanyi has spent the last 10 years crafting content on a variety of topics including eCommerce, health, auto, technology and startups. Away from pounding on the QWERTY, he enjoys getting engrossed in a thick tome or getting first downs on Madden. To learn more about Mark’s freelance writing services, reach out here.

Mark B. Mugaanyi