This past weekend, Lando Norris scored the second podium finish of his Formula 1 career. At Imola last year, the Brit secured an eighth-place finish, a result that at the time appeared satisfactory. But if there’s anything that is to be learned about Norris’s career thus far, satisfactory does not seem to be how it will trend.
In some ways, it may be easy to overlook the young McLaren driver, and that is not just a quip about his height, listed at 5’7″ but looks to be an overstatement. What the 21-year-old lacks in stature, he sure seems to have in talent.
Norris is already in his third year driving full-time for the Surrey, England-based team, with a few races as a reserve driver preceding those. Of the three podium finishes the team has earned since the start of the 2019 season, Norris owns two of them. He seems to be the driver that is set to be the stalwart of the team, having seen off Carlos Sainz and welcomed Daniel Ricciardo in the offseason.
That position appears well deserved. Norris consistently battled Sainz for top team qualifier and looks to be doing the same with Ricciardo. His one-lap pace seems to be building each week and may just push him to a front-row start this 2021 season.
He used that same skill to blow past Charles Leclerc on Sunday (April 18), enabling him to slide into second for much of the second half at Imola. With degrading soft tires, Norris could not keep Lewis Hamilton from making a late pass for position.
And, while McLaren is now using the same Mercedes power as Hamilton, the car is no match for the one that has captured the last eight F1 championships.
Still, with Norris in the seat and Mercedes now the power supplier, McLaren is a team that is starting to rediscover its championship form after languishing for the past eight years. Not since 2012, when Hamilton and Jenson Button held the seats, has McLaren looked this good.
That said, McLaren is in for a fight to maintain midfield supremacy before the team can look forward to going wheel-to-wheel with Mercedes or Red Bull. But there is reason to believe that such an idea will not be too far off.
Norris appears to be the linchpin in this success. The former F3 champ and F2 runner-up has all the makings of a talent that, given a great car, will start tallying wins on a frequent basis. That he is only 21 years old means he is two years younger than Max Verstappen and is already showing his prowess. Norris may have finished ninth in the driver’s standings last year, but eight more points would have set him aside Sainz and Alex Albon, who respectively finished sixth and seventh, both with 105 points.
The podium finish at Imola offers a glimpse of a hopeful future.
Norris said afterward, “It was a nice little battle. It’s nice to be racing unusual cars, I guess, for us – a Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferraris and things like that. It’s nice to be going up against them, so hopefully we can have some more of that in the future.”
Having a tenure with McLaren and coming from the depths of the field has also helped in his maturation. Team principal Andreas Seidl is exclamatory in his optimism.
“You could see already in Bahrain and in the winter that he’d definitely made the next step, both as a driver and a guy,” Seidl stated. “He digested last year’s season, together with his engineering team, in the right way. It’s normal also that these young guys make steps, especially in these first years. They have to make it, otherwise they will never make it to the top, but it’s just great how he’s pulling it off. He has the confidence to put the laps in and what he did today [P3] again was great.”
With a return to Mercedes power, the engine that last backed McLaren’s run to excellence, there is a good shot Norris will soon be racing for more than just podiums. As the team and the driver gain confidence at running near the front, the likelihood of a breakthrough win becomes all the more probable.
In the series season preview, the writers at F1 all pegged McLaren as a team ready to steal a win or two, and Norris looks like he will be the one to do so. It’s more a question of when and not if.
Whither the Canadian Grand Prix
While no official word has come, the consensus is that the Canadian GP will be canceled for a second straight year. Rumors started coming out this past weekend in what likely was a method for the sport to push Canada to make a decision.
At the heart of the matter is a $6 million payment F1 seeks to counteract the loss of revenue from the absence of fans. In addition, F1 seeks quarantine waivers for race personnel, something Canadian health services have been unwilling to do.
The loss of the Canadian GP would be troubling for both the Canadian government, who supplies much of the promotional fees, as well as F1. It’s a marriage of partners that should be seeking to reconcile from a bad tiff but who are instead stonewalling and becoming increasingly defensive.
Should the race not happen, which seems to be the case, Turkey is standing by and ready to host a F1 event for the second year in a row. The track in Turkey is pleasant enough and should be appreciably weathered for 2021, but it still does not bring the same cache with it as does Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
It’s time for all parties involved to get smart and compromise.