Written by Alejandra Guajardo Lozano, Edited by Ishani Aziz
Since his rookie debut in 2019 with McLaren, Lando Norris has become an established name on the grid. The Belgian-British Formula One driver was born on the 13th of November 1999, in Bristol, United Kingdom. The 23-year old is widely regarded as fast, witty, and most importantly, determined to win. But is he really Formula One World Champion material?
With 83 race entries, one pole position, and six podiums, the British driver is still waiting for that maiden win. He famously had a chance at the 2021 Russian Grand Prix, where he claimed his pole position but refused to pit for Inters, a detrimental decision that ended in him sliding off the wet track. Norris was devastated that his win, which was within four laps of his reach, was taken from him. His bitter response after the 2021 race was:
"Obviously unhappy... devastated in a way.. I guess we made a call to stay out and we stand by that call, of course the wrong one at the end.”
During the 2021 season, Norris finished P2 at the 2021 Monza Grand Prix, behind his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and entered the 2022 season with high expectations of the papaya team. The car seemed reasonably fast during the pre-season testing in Bahrain, which Mercedes’ George Russell admitted:
“Some teams are looking pretty fast… A red team and an orange team in particular look very, very competitive.”
For that reason, fans were extremely let down at the opening race. Norris ended up P15 with Ricciardo P14, which didn’t bode well. While there was a glimmer of hope at Emilia Romagna, with a P3 finish from Norris, McLaren seemed to be falling behind overall.
But is McLaren perhaps overshadowing the potential Norris has? Other world champions have often named the young driver as a championship contender, talent-wise. The likes of Jenson Button and Mika Häkkinen have both praised him. Button stated: “A very quick driver, he's achieved a lot, or rather he's shown convincing results consistently”. While Häkkinen sang Lando’s praises during an interview with Unibet International:
“He's super-talented, no question about it. He's on the same level as Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz. He's on a very high level speed-wise.”
So there seems to be a belief that Norris is a talented, fast, and consistent driver with the potential to win championships. However the consensus seems to be that this potential won’t be fully unlocked unless he leaves McLaren. As Formula One Champion Nico Rosberg once claimed, the “80/20 rule” rings true in this case. Driving skills account for 20% of a winner’s success, while his team is responsible for up to 80%.
There have been rumors of Norris’ disappointment in the team, and potential moves elsewhere. The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner revealed he has spoken with Norris about joining the team more than once over the past few years:
“We’ve talked to Lando a couple of times over the years, but every time we’ve had a conversation, he’s signed a contract with McLaren the next day,” said Horner. He went on to say:
“He’s on a long-term contract with McLaren and it looks like he’s going to be there a few more years.”
Norris is clearly fond of the team, and has a long standing loyalty to the Woking based-team because they offered him his first opportunity. But he must also be aware that his potential will suffer if McLaren continue on their current trajectory.
Potentially the first nail in the coffin was the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix. This was arguably one of their worst performances of late, with a P17 from Lando, and a DNF from Piastri. The rumours only intensified after the disappointing start, with talks of Norris as a potential replacement for Sergio Pérez at Red Bull. Realistically, Norris won’t go back on the McLaren multi-year deal he signed before the start of the 2022 season. It would take McLaren to finish below fifth place this season to get those talks going, which may not be impossible. With Norris’ future resting on this deal, who’s to say what 2023 holds for the young Brit.