Lando Norris has put on two quite reasonable seasons in his short Formula 1 career. And with 2021 fast approaching, what improvements lay ahead for the young McLaren driver?
Over the course of his two Formula 1 seasons with McLaren, Lando Norris has seen significant improvement. While he has been no slouch behind the wheel, year one saw Norris err on the side of caution. Often playing it safe in an attempt to limit the risk of damage to the car. This ultimately led to lost places on opening laps as he dropped back through the field. With more aggressive drivers taking the opportunity to push past.
This has been backed up by Norris, with the McLaren driver stating back in 2019 that “I’d rather finish the race than anything else.”
However, as Norris’ confidence grew and he gained vital experience throughout his maiden F1 season, we started to see a slightly different driving style from the rookie.
Encouraged by McLaren team members, Norris started to come out of his shell. Not only pushing harder and taking chances throughout the race. But also challenging for position and placing a larger emphasis on his defence.
Push through to the recently completed 2020 F1 season and Norris stepped it up again. Bringing a competitiveness that he somewhat lacked the year prior.
Not only did Norris put up a fight during the opening laps, but also for the duration of the race. Both in his defensiveness and aggressiveness. Gaining the nickname “Last lap Lando” after fighting for and successfully achieving track position during the closing stages of several races.
Two years competing against former teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. saw Norris fairly evenly matched with the older and more experienced driver. While Sainz would finish ahead on points in the Drivers’ Championship during both seasons, the qualifying and race results between the two were on par.
Looking ahead to 2021
There are several factors behind the improvement that Norris may see for 2021.
The first being experience. Making the jump from F2 to F1 is no small feat for many of the drivers on the grid. Faster car, tougher and stronger competition and different workings within F1 teams all contribute to driver struggles.
That being said, Norris has continued to improve and gain experience which will be vital in his growth for McLaren. Something the team will be expecting him to continue into next season.
The introduction of the Mercedes power unit for 2021 should also aid Norris in his push for further podiums. With McLaren hopeful the new setup will further increase their on-track performance through added speed and reliability.
Partnering with new teammate Daniel Ricciardo will also add that extra motivation Norris will require to seek improvement. Ricciardo outperformed former Renault teammate Esteban Ocon in both qualifying and racing for the entirety of 2020. Norris will need to be at his best to avoid a repeat performance from his new McLaren partner.
The relationship Norris experienced with Sainz will also likely be different with Ricciardo. However, the effort to build a strong driver pairing between the two should be relatively easy considering their 2020 off-field antics. A topic McLaren Racing Director Andrea Stella recently discussed.
“The level of collaboration between the two of them has been incredibly high,” Stella said. “It’s one of the reasons they are so evenly matched on track. When there is an open and transparent dialogue between teammates, it elevates their performance because they can crosscheck with each other and quickly identify the weak points of the car or find the best approach to a corner.
“This has been possible due to the personal qualities of Carlos and Lando, and, I hope, the environment we have built within the team which encourages openness and trust. It means the drivers feel comfortable opening their box of secrets, rather than keeping that box closed so as not to give away any advantage to their team-mate.
“Daniel is not Carlos and his relationship with Lando will be different. It may be similar, but it will not be the same and we need to be mindful of that and adapt with a view to maintain the standards. After two years of racing in F1 and having been so evenly matched with Carlos, Lando has shown that he has all the qualities to become a top driver in the sport.”
Heading into his third F1 season and with McLaren looking the best they have in years, it will be up to Norris to show us what he’s made of.