SAMRIDH SINHA |10th October 2021

Lando Norris is having the best season of his career this calendar year. While most may define his abilities as a work in progress, I believe he is ready to join the bracket of the elite drivers in Formula 1, setting up McLaren beautifully for 2022 and beyond.

For the most entertaining 21-year-old on and off track, a season with 4 podiums is more than an accomplishment.

With 4 races to go, the Brit is only a few points off a Red Bull, that too one driven by Sergio Pérez, a testament to the leaps he has taken in his short career on the racetrack.

And although his future is bright, there is a present, a present ready to take off.

The Progress

All drivers racing at the Formula 1 level are extremely talented. However, categorically, some drivers’ skills are recognized early on and others, while talented, go under the radar with their progress.

The likes of George Russell and Charles Leclerc have always been touted as brilliant, and rightly so, whereas Lando was often left out of that conversation of young, up and coming superstars. Of course, being second fiddle to Carlos Sainz did not help.

While guilty of looking at Lando as second best in the McLaren Drivers’ lineup myself, the one thing I did grasp is how he uses every stage in his career as a learning curve.

The Twitch star came through the ranks, and by that I don’t just mean as a junior driver for McLaren, but through the F4 British Championship, European Formula 3 Championship and finally Formula 2.

A proper rise through the ranks.

The 2019 F1 season, being his first, was of course introductory in nature, where he bagged 49 points while learning the tricks of his trade. He hasn’t looked backed since.

Helping Zak Brown’s crew finish third in the Constructors’ Championship with 97 points to his name in 2020, Lando Norris played a vital role in ensuring a podium finish for McLaren in those standings for the first time since 2012.

And today? He has 5 more points himself than his whole team did in his inaugural season in 2019 with 4 races to go. How much better is he going to get?

That Sochi Race

Prior to the 2021 Russian Grand Prix, the last time a McLaren driver took pole was in November of 2012. Interlagos, the home of the Brazilian Grand Prix, was the site. Lewis Hamilton was the driver.

Having emulated that feat, Norris was on the brink of his first ever Grand Prix win, his eyes perhaps set on popping the champagne from the top step of the podium, when misfortune and inexperience collided.

Having kept Lewis at bay through the race, Lando decided against changing his tyres to intermediates as rains showed up.

The tricky situation was effectively resolved by Mercedes, who boldly pitted Hamilton on the 49th lap. Ultimately, Norris could not stay on the wet track and Hamilton won his 100th race.

Formula 1 has many facets, and while winning is an important one, especially when trying to make a case for a race driver, garnering experience in the journey of every race week is key.

Lando may have been the best driver on the day, but experienced cars passed the chequered flag in Sochi before him.

Losing in Formula 1 is underrated. Often losing a race, especially the way Lando did, changes the way one deals with tricky situations. One uses past failures, to convert them into future wins. That is exactly what I predict with Lando going forward.

Luckily enough, even though Lando lost, he is now an experienced campaigner walking into 2022. The experiences of Sochi and its impact will be measured with the better decision making and podiums in the time to come.

Akin to Lewis

Lando’s young career and style has often drawn parallels with that of Lewis Hamilton. When Hamilton, the finest of his generation sees a shadow of himself in Lando, it truly etches the young Brit’s position as a fantastic driver.

Even McLaren CEO, Zak Brown, has drawn comparisons between the two compatriots, stating that Lando is up there with Lewis in terms of pace.

Hamilton has also taken a generation of younger drivers such as Lando and Mick Schumacher under his wing, citing how proud and excited he is for them.

To be a fast and talented driver is one thing, but to follow the career trajectory whilst being mentored by one of the greatest to grace the racing track is another ball game in itself.

Lando’s career has been defined by his experiences and how he uses them to take leaps year in and year out, the season of 2021 has provided Lando just that. Experience.

The Present

In terms of the driver line-up for McLaren, it was a wonderful surprise to see Lando outclass Daniel Ricciardo, even with it being the latter’s first season with the car. As for Zak Brown and co, they would feel great about being in a win-win situation with two elite drivers.

A perfect blend of talent, youthfulness and experience for the team. Confident and with their spirits high, 2022 will surely be an exciting time for McLaren fans.

As for Lando, the car seems to have developed in a way beneficial for him and he seems to be extracting the most out of the MCLM35. With 4 races to go, he will be seeking to secure more points and perhaps another podium to finish off a masterclass of a season on a personal level.

For most Formula One teams, the present is not this season – it never was. The sights have firmly been set on 2022, with the hotly anticipated financial and technical regulations.

And while Lando has said that the team is not there yet in terms of challenging for a world title, their priority to cement their position as the best of the rest and closing the gap to Red Bull and Mercedes remains.

The practical impact of the regulations will be impossible to ascertain, but the growth he has shown over the short span of his career gives me a good feeling about supporting McLaren and Lando Norris going forward.