Last weekend in Sochi we sat down with Lando Norris, embarking on a journey back in time as we went from his F3 days to his F1 debut, with some hints about his childhood here and there. MotoGP made it to the conversation with Norris along with social media, a topic which is very dear to his heart.
The career of the Briton took a major upturn a mere two years after his F3 campaign, spending one year in F2 and making the leap to F1 the following season. Asked about what was going through his mind back then, he answered: “I was hoping, I didn’t know anything. It was around the time when I joined McLaren for the junior programme. I was interacting with all the team, getting used to the team a bit more. It seemed like I was too early, I always thought I had like another two years, even when I was in F2. It’s weird thinking now that two years ago I was in F3, so I didn’t really think I’d be in F1, but at the same time there was always a chance or a possibility.”
“Even though the team was struggling pretty much at every level, everything was still better compared to F2 and F3, more professional, there is more analysis, everything is just to a higher level.” he added.
Speaking about battles and rivals in the feeder series, Norris praised Markelov’s skills among the three Russian drivers on the F3 and F2 fields and asked about his strongest opponents in F2, he replied: “De Vries, Sergio (Sette Camara), who was my teammate, Latifi who is on a roll this year, Ghiotto as well”.
“The best among the three Russian drivers in terms of mere racing was Artem, he is good at saving tyres, he is aggressive, very experienced, very quick. Rob (Shwartzman)’s doing the best out of all of them, he was still good when I was racing him in Formula Renault, but he has improved since then”
A lot of simulator work is now part of the preparation of an F1 driver, but Lando Norris has always had a passion for sim racing since he was a child. Here how it started and evolved through time as he grew up and upgraded in terms of equipment.
“I started when I was 4 or 5, my dad had a Gran Turismo on the Play Station 2. We had a really bad steering wheel and pedals, it’s not a proper simulator, so I guess it kinda started there and I love driving like that.”
“I‘ve always loved doing it since karting, whenever I saw a simulator, I always wanted to drive it, but I didn’t have a proper one at home. I was 12 or 13 when I had a run at home with my seat, proper screen, then that’s when I started doing a lot more and more seriously.”
Norris is also well known for the hilarious contents published on his social media channels, which brought him to bear the nickname of “Meme Lord”. Now that he is in F1, a more serious environment, it is rather hard to be found funny by everyone, but here is his answer: “I don’t care what they think, I just want to be who I am, all I want to do is enjoy it. A lot of people love it and some people hate it, but -in a non-arrogant way- I don’t really care if they hate it.”
His utmost respect towards MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi also emerged through social media after his visit to the British GP in August. Norris never hid his passion for motorracing, but asked if he would consider taking it to the next level by competing in MotoGP and trying to emulate Surtees, the Briton ruled out such a possibility.
“I doubt it. But I would love to try bikes, if I go on it and it’s just amazing, maybe I would. I just love car racing, I love watching motorracing, I respect all the riders, but it’s not something that attracts me as much as driving cars. I did a bit of motocross when I was younger, but as soon as I jumped into a kart, that was what I loved doing.”
“I enjoyed going to Silverstone and I’m probably going next year again, if it’s not clashing with anything” he added.
The journey back in time ended, as Norris started talking us through the improvements of the team since 2018 and analyzed his stronger point, which is qualifying, now holding a 9-6 on teammate Carlos Sainz.
McLaren was in for big changes as the end of last year, on top of them an all-new line-up and the arrival of new key figures. Norris said that the difference between 2018 and 2019 was so dramatic, that the improvement throughout the year was not significantly tangible. “We started off the year pretty good, there has been a lot of improvements if we compare it to last year. This year there is a lot of new people, new drivers, we have Andreas. Because it started so well, there has not been a huge change of atmosphere throughout the current season. Teamwork, team spirit, are much better, when we were working together I was enjoying it a bit more”.
He also talked qualifying, a key racing moment in which he delivered better compared to the race, also because there are less variables that could thwart the drivers. The Briton has not made it to the points on 8 occasions so far this year, suffering 3 DNFs either for mechanical problems or incidents.
“I enjoy qualifying more than the races, it’s something I’ve always been quite good at even since karting. In F4, Formula Renault qualifying has always been my stronger point, I don’t know why. I just drive better in qualifying, in the race there are more things that can happen. In the races it has not been so bad, I’ve been doing quite well in the races.”
“There’s been quite a few races where I was on for points and then I had a problem with the car, so the racing isn’t bad but there’s things I need to improve still. This year it’s not as bad as what it looks, in terms of championship points.”
Since the team is heading towards the right direction, Norris hints at no significant changes on the 2020 concept of the McLaren racecar: “Nothing major. I’m sure there is going to be something changing, but nothing insane…maybe they come up with some magic ideas and it looks completely different!”