until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

‘Nervous’ Norris could have big role with Hamilton ‘surrounded’

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

McLaren driver Lando Norris admits he’s “nervous” about the prospect of getting in amongst Formula 1’s two title contenders in the championship-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.

Norris qualified third behind poleman Max Verstappen and his level-on-points rival Lewis Hamilton, meaning he pipped Verstappen and Hamilton’s respective team-mates Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas.

Adding an extra dimension is the fact that Norris had set his fastest time in Q2 on softs, locking them in as his starting tyre of choice.

All drivers qualifying in the top five are on that strategy bar one – Hamilton, the very driver Norris is starting behind and one who will line up on the medium tyres that theoretically offer less grip off the line.

“He’s surrounded by guys starting on soft tyres around him,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said of Hamilton, referencing Norris, the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez and the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.

“He’s going to have his hands full in the first few laps to deal with that.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Qualifying Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

Norris, for his part, said of the title rivals ahead of him on the grid: “I’m a bit nervous! Because I kind of want to just stay where I am and just watch everything unfold over the first laps, or even the whole race.

“But I also don’t really want to get involved too much because it can cause a lot of controversy. I don’t know. I don’t know whether to go for the move, not go for the move… you tell me! But if I have a chance, I’ll go for it.”

Later in his main media session – during which his McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo suggested “take ’em out lad” as the best tactic in a neat bit of heckling – Norris reflected further on his dilemma.

“You’ve got to respect that they’re going for a championship and you don’t want to harm anything that’s going on there,” he mused.

“I guess you don’t want to take any excessive risks. You know what they’re fighting for, I know what I’m fighting for.

“But it’s a race, I’m allowed to overtake them, I can still race against them and if I have a chance to overtake I can still overtake.

“Of course there’s a lot of responsibility for me and a lot of responsibility for them, but they also have things to lose and I also have things to gain. Of course I don’t want to ruin anything, I don’t want to be too involved.

“Realistically I know I’m not racing them, so I’ve just got to pick my battles wisely.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Qualifying Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

Though Norris will be expected to focus on getting the best possible result for his McLaren team – and has indeed indicated he will do just that – it’s clear how the dynamic of the title fight can serve as a complication, with Verstappen being a friend yet Hamilton driving for McLaren’s partner Mercedes.

McLaren drivers haven’t generally seemed to offer Hamilton an easy way through in this title run-in, and Norris did defend the last time he was properly fighting Hamilton for position, with no caveats, in the Interlagos sprint.

There, as Hamilton lined up a lunge down the inside of Turn 1, Norris briefly tried to cover him off but quickly abandoned his defence, conceding it as a lost cause.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Brazilian Grand Prix Sprint Day Sao Paulo, Brazil

The following day Hamilton again started behind Norris in the main race due to a grid penalty, but was immediately promoted ahead due to Norris’s contact with Sainz and a puncture.

If Norris is indeed hopeful that he won’t have to intervene in the title fight, there’s cause for optimism for the McLaren man at least for the start – as, with the run down to Turn 1 so short, the third-placed car has never passed the second-placed car at Yas Marina off the line during F1’s hybrid era.

Norris himself was fourth on softs last year behind three cars on mediums and was likewise unable to make up ground.

However, it is also true that the revamped layout after Turn 1 could play a part, with potentially more of an opportunity to line up a move into what is now the Turn 5 hairpin.

In either case, even if the title duo stay ahead, Norris should yet play a major role in determining which of the two rear gunners get to aid their respective team-mates – with Perez sharing row two with Norris and also starting on softs, and Bottas lining up a row behind on mediums.

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