Lando Norris’s hard-earned second place in the British Grand Prix was a welcome return to the Formula 1 podium and showed off a skill he hasn’t really relied on before.
What a driver needs to do to impress is often situational. Norris has demonstrated his class many times by scoring multiple podiums and producing other strong drives, despite rarely having one of F1’s fastest cars.
The performances have tended to fall within the same category: strong qualifying, minimal time loss, and a dominant performance in the ‘best of the rest’ class.
That doesn’t cover every Norris podium or good result but it is a good reference point for his stand-out moments in F1. It’s a hallmark of how a relative underdog overachieves. He has proven himself extremely quick, consistent, and robust under pressure.
Seeing Norris’s racecraft at Silverstone brought a new dimension of his driving into focus.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 9, 2023
Good as Norris was at the start, jumping Max Verstappen and holding firm into Abbey then fending him off through the tight Village right-hander, it was his defence against Lewis Hamilton at the late safety car restart that impressed most.
Norris looked like a sitting duck on hard tyres at the restart. If he had any chance of holding on he needed to survive the warm-up phase and keep track position on that first lap. But he just looked so vulnerable to Hamilton on softs.
“To be honest, when the safety car was deployed, I was really sure, if not convinced, that we would be eating up the McLarens,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted.
But even though the initial restart was a little weak, and Hamilton had so much more grip coming off The Loop, Norris’s positioning was excellent. He defended well into Brooklands, braking late enough that Hamilton couldn’t just sweep around the outside or crucially get the inside line into Luffield.
That allowed Norris to defend again as he and Hamilton went wheel-to-wheel, and Norris expertly let the car roll deep into the corner and shuffle Hamilton wide – cutting off Hamilton’s route round the outside and preventing him from getting the cutback too. Covering the inside into Copse shut the door there as well.
This boosted Norris’s chances of staying ahead immensely, as his tyres came up to temperature. But it wasn’t over, especially after another kick of oversteer on throttle coming from the final sequence of corners.
On the next lap, Norris had a little extra margin through and out of the Brooklands left-hander and took his normal line into Luffield – a deeper entry, letting the car run wider so he could square the second part of the corner off more. Hamilton made a clever move, squirting the throttle to put his Mercedes in between Norris and the kerb.
But Norris didn’t panic. He had enough grip to plant the throttle on the outside and even though Hamilton had superior traction on the softs so could get on the power himself, Norris had enough momentum to hold on.
He just edged ahead – reward for picking a slightly lower downforce set-up – after they swept through Woodcote almost side-by-side, and moved right to make it clear to Hamilton there would be no sending it down the inside at Copse.
“He is very talented, as you can see, and it is great when you can have close battles like that and rely on the driver that you’re competing with to be hard but fair,” Hamilton acknowledged.
“There was never an element or a moment where we thought we were going to come together or anything like that. And that’s what motor racing is all about.”
Norris’s wheel-to-wheel moments with F1’s elite have been few and far between. A stand-out example is muscling his way past Charles Leclerc on the grass through Curve Grande, at another restart, on his way to finishing second and completing a McLaren one-two in the 2021 Italian Grand Prix that Daniel Ricciardo won.
But the need, or rather the opportunity, to go wheel-to-wheel with F1’s best has been sparing. Until now.
“I really did want to hold on to P2, so I did everything I could and a lot of it was trying to get the temperature in the tyres for the restart,” said Norris.
“They’re very good in the first half, so Turn 3, Turn 4, Turns 6 and 7 [The Loop section, Brooklands and Luffield]. Lewis could quite easily get on me.
“But then we’ve always been very good in high speed, it keeps the tyres in a good condition and I was a lot of laps quite easily flat through [Copse] and two downshifts into Maggotts and Becketts and I could always give myself that safety margin that I wanted.
“It was close, when I saw him I throw it up the inside in Turn 7 [Luffield]. I’m sure the fans were loving it.
“I chose a slightly lower downforce level, which was a bit of a risk, but I thought there might be a racing situation where one or two kph might have helped me out and it did exactly that.”
When Norris’s task is often about minimising time loss and focusing on his own race, that tends to mean not resisting too much when there are Red Bulls or Mercedes or Ferraris around.
Having reason to throw everything at it in battle was as much a change for him as it was those of us watching and put a different skill on display, in a typically impactful way.
The more McLaren can give Norris a competitive car, the more he will need to take the fight to the best drivers on the grid.
It’s no great surprise to see emphatic proof Norris is up to that challenge.