Lando Norris faces a challenging 2021 season. Carlos Sainz Jr’s departure gives him the opportunity to establish himself as McLaren’s number 1 driver, but at the same time, he faces one of the toughest team-mates any driver can face with Daniel Ricciardo’s arrival to the papaya team.
Lando is as prepared as he could hope to be to take on Daniel. He might be only 21 years old, but the young Brit’s first two seasons in Formula 1 were remarkable.
The statistics, especially in qualifying, were relatively even, with Norris as the junior partner in terms of overall performance, something that could be expected due to his inexperience compared to teammate Sainz. This still dictates a strong start to Norris’s F1 career and creates a chance in which he can realistically aspire to take on Ricciardo.
“It’s a little bit into the unknown because I’ve only had one team-mate in Formula 1, so it’s hard to know what to expect from somebody different,” Norris tells The Race.
“But I rate Carlos extremely highly, as do Ferrari. I don’t feel like I wasn’t going up against anybody competitive and Daniel is going to do something incredible. I’ve seen Carlos do many things better than Daniel, but there’s also a lot of things that Daniel probably does better than Carlos.
“He’s a different driver, but he’s not going to be tenths faster than Carlos. Maybe there’s better consistency or better feedback, he’s able to do a better job in qualifying or he’s better at tyre saving, there’s these small things that he can do slightly better in.
“A lot of it is just going to be from his [Ricciardo] experience of being with a lot of different teams in Formula 1 and at a Red Bull team which has won races lately. I can’t wait for the opportunity to learn from someone like that, rather than feel worried or anything like that.”
Norris has assuredly used being up against Sainz as a lesson. The peaks and valleys in the “battle” between the teammates - won by Sainz but with Norris not too far behind across 2019 and 2020 - reveal a lot about their own strengths and weaknesses.
“Carlos and myself were very close on pace. When one of us is much ahead, sometimes it’s because they’ve done a very good job and they’ve nailed the lap. But more often than not, it’s because one of us is struggling with the set-up or the confidence in the car. That’s our excuse!”
Lando has also been working on enlarging his skillset as a driver, and given that the 2020 McLaren was one of the more complex cars to drive on the limit, that had clearly paid off.
“It’s learning from Carlos in some ways, how he drives and being able to change my driving style to match what he does sometimes. It’s not to drive like him, it’s just having those one or two corners where I need to lean a bit more towards his driving style rather than trying to do my driving style.”
Even if there might be a desire to give in to the experienced newcomer, Norris can’t afford to come into 2021 with a junior partner mindset or he could risk being permanently cast as one.
“Almost one of the biggest things, apart from the on-track stuff, it’s the off-track confidence and being able to say what I want from the car, what I need from the car to do a good job for myself.
“I’ve learned how to just say ‘I will be doing a better job if you can make this better on the car,’ because it will give me better confidence. Maybe it’s not better on the car, but mentally for myself, for my own performance.
How this new partnership rolls out is still to be seen. But we are all aware that F1 drivers are competitive beasts and Norris will be aware that this is a great opportunity to seal himself as the key driver for McLaren as the team continues to climb back up the grid. Regardless of the team’s performance in the 2021 season, the intra-team battle will be important.