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Formula 1

Norris on his last big weakness and how beating Ricciardo helped

by Edd Straw
6 min read

McLaren driver Lando Norris says he still needs to get better at extracting performance when the car is at its most difficult to drive, despite emerging as one of the standout performers of the 2021 Formula 1 season.

The 22-year-old is fifth in the drivers’ championship with 153 points and came close to winning the Russian Grand Prix.

His consistency and strong form compared to incoming team-mate Daniel Ricciardo have led to some some citing him as future world championship material.

Results have been poor recently given McLaren’s struggles and some misfortune, with Norris picking up a ninth and two 10th places in the recent triple-header after a back-of-the-grid penalty in Mexico, hitting Carlos Sainz on the first lap in Brazil and getting a puncture and losing a top-five finish to another puncture in Qatar.

But Norris justifiably believes he has still driven well despite results that haven’t matched up to those attained earlier in the year.

“The second half of the season has not been as good in terms of pure results, but I still feel like although I’ve made a couple of mistakes here and there, many of the races have still been very good,” said Norris.

“Even though I’ve been eighth, ninth or 10th, it’s still been from what we could achieve that day a good result.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Qatar Grand Prix Qualifying Day Doha, Qatar

“Qatar from a driving perspective was very, very good, I was happy with my qualifying and the whole race even after the puncture.

“I’m very happy with the progress that I’ve made, especially from last year into this year, starting the season strong.

“There’s definitely some things to still work on because there’s still some tracks and ways of driving I need to improve.

“When the car is like it has the last couple of years and I know exactly how to drive it, that’s when I can be very strong.

“But let’s say the window’s like this [narrow] and you have to be right here [in the middle of it] and that’s where we are quick but it’s very difficult to drive.

“Sometimes, on certain tracks, there is just no perfect performance window and when it is a difficult car to drive and we are not that quick. So then trying to find how to drive that car is what I struggle with a little bit more.

“When the car is very bad, that is when I can still make improvements. That is one of my biggest areas to improve still.

“Apart from that, my starts and first laps, decision making, strategy, tyre saving, all of these things are a lot better than what it was last year and has helped us be in the fight with Ferrari.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

It is a fair appraisal by Norris. There have been occasions when he has underachieved in qualifying, most famously shunting in appalling conditions at Spa when he looked to be a pole threat.

But he’s also produced some outstanding laps, including his one to go sixth-fastest last time out in Qatar that went under the radar.

He has attributed his overall step this year to hard work on his driving and what he calls “classroom-based stuff” over the winter, focusing on the strategy, tyre management and engineering side of his game.

Tyre management is an area where he has shown improvement this year, a tricky skill that, as he explains, isn’t simply about “going a bit slower”.

Norris has admitted in the past that he’s not the most supremely confident driver, which is not a weakness given it has driven him to work so hard.

But he also says that performing so well against new team-mate Ricciardo has contributed to the growing confidence and improvements in terms of his mentality.

“There’s always that question when you go up against a driver like that of ‘are you going to do well, is he going to beat me in every single qualifying and race of the season?’” says Norris

“Those thoughts go through the head a bit before the year, but when none of that happens you think ‘OK if I can do this against him, he could beat this guy when he was in the same car then I must be in a decent place’. It makes you think of good things.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Race Day Sakhir, Bahrain

“But on the flip side, it doesn’t make me feel like I’m suddenly the best driver in the world because there have been some races where Daniel has been quicker than me and qualifyings where he’s been quicker than me.

“He’s still Daniel, once he clicked and finds his way, I hope to still be quicker than him. But I know it’s not like I’m always going to be quicker than him because he’s a very good driver.

“My confidence has definitely come up with how I feel I’ve performed and it’s not necessarily all because I’ve beaten Daniel but a very small part of it is just that little bit more confidence.”

Norris is also confident enough in his position to talk up his contribution to McLaren’s bid for third, saying “we are in the fight with Ferrari because of how strong my first half of the season was.”

It’s difficult to argue with his position given he racked up nine top-five finishes out of 10 races in the first part of the year, with his other result an eighth in Spain.

He has scored 48 more points than Ricciardo, as well as being just ahead of Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in the drivers’ standings.

Ferrari looks set to take third despite Norris’s efforts, and could tie up the position in Saudi Arabia this weekend if it outscores McLaren by five points.

But Norris feels McLaren has nonetheless been the better team in terms of execution given the Ferrari has so often been the faster car.

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

“I think when they they brought their power unit upgrade, that’s helped them,” said Norris of the turning point in that battle.

“They were very good on energy before, so they have a lot of deployment which in some circuits doesn’t make a massive difference but on some circuits definitely helps because when we are clipping on the straight and lose 20km/h they just keep going.

“It makes a big difference in terms of how you can race them and overtaking. And of course they had a bit more power and power’s a lovely thing, when they had that they took a little step forward.

“It’s just been very close all season. I still believe we’ve done a better job as a team, I think there have been more races where they have been quicker but made more mistakes than us so they should be further ahead.

“From a drivers’ championship point of view I’m just ahead of them, and of course I want the team to be up there but I feel like I’ve done as much as I can to help out on that side of it.

“We’ve just been more consistent with how we’ve done as a team maximising it and I think if they would have performed at the same level we have done as a team then they would be ahead.”

The big negative of Norris’s season was the ‘lost’ win at Sochi when he stayed out too long on slicks in the rain – although it was clear at the time that the lack of information given to him about the imminent second bank of rain hitting was key to that error.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Russian Grand Prix Race Day Sochi, Russia

But he argues that experience will make him better able to capitalise on being able to capitalise on a winning position when it arises again.

After this season, Norris is certainly first in line to break through as the next race winner. Few would bet against him taking that next step given the rate of improvement in his F1 career to date.

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