For Lando Norris, Formula One Is All-Consuming

“I was nothing special.”

You do not often hear that from a Formula One driver, but that was the self-assessment of Lando Norris of McLaren in an interview about his career.

It was a humble statement from the English driver who had risen from go-karts to Formula One in just 12 years and this week was given a new long-term contract by McLaren.

Norris was 19 years and 124 days old when he made his debut at the Australian Grand Prix in March, becoming the third-youngest driver in the history of the motorsport series, behind Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Lance Stroll, who now drives for Racing Point.

It was the culmination of a stellar junior career in which Norris won numerous titles before finishing second in last year’s Formula Two championship behind George Russell, who is driving for Williams this season.

When Fernando Alonso announced his retirement last season, McLaren promoted Norris from test driver to Alonso’s seat.

“I know a lot of people say they always believed they could get into F1, but I didn’t quite believe that, certainly not when I was 7 and maybe not until I was 14. It was always so far away,” Norris said before his home race at Silverstone this weekend.

“I watched every race every weekend, and you know how amazing the drivers are, but it’s not something where I was thinking at that age ‘I can definitely get to Formula One.’ I certainly didn’t believe it because when I first got into karting, and for my first four or five years, I was nothing special. I won one major race, and that was it.”

His results improved when he switched kart manufacturers.

“That really kicked everything off,” he said. “I started winning more races, I grew in confidence, and I was recognized by better teams.”

McLaren officials told him during last year’s Italian Grand Prix that he was getting Alonso’s seat.

At the time, Norris described it “as a dream come true” and “a special moment, one I could only hope would become a reality.”

When Norris qualified eighth in Australia in a car not expected by the team to make the top 10, it signaled his arrival on the Formula One stage.

Although he finished 12th, sixth place followed in Bahrain, McLaren’s best result since Alonso was fifth in Australia the previous year.

Norris began running into problems soon after. He collided with Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso in China, and there were more retirements because of technical issues in Spain and Canada.

Norris qualified fifth in France, the team’s highest grid placing since the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix, but finished ninth, dropping two places on the final lap because of a hydraulics problem.

After another sixth place in the last race in Austria, Andreas Seidl, McLaren’s new team principal, said his rookie driver had been outstanding.

“I’ve been very impressed from the beginning, even when I watched the first few races from home,” Seidl said.

“When you come into Formula One, and in your first qualifying you score eighth in a car that was probably 12th to 14th in terms of performance, it’s an impressive achievement, and it’s not been a one-off. He has done it several times, which is great to see.

“He also reacts well with the engineers, with the guys at the track and back in the factory, regarding the development of the car, so inside the team, we are very happy.”

Norris said he spent hours practicing on a custom-built simulator that was installed in his home in Guildford, England.

“I probably work harder, putting in a lot of time and effort, than a lot of drivers because all I think about, and all I do, is to do with racing, trying to make myself a better driver,” he said.

“I’ve missed out on a lot of things, going out with friends. I know that people are out drinking, having fun, doing the things they like to do.”

Seidl said he appreciated Norris’ dedication.

“He’s obsessed with the sim,” Seidl said. “He’s convinced, and we can see it, that it helps him prepare for the races, for him to feel sharp when he arrives at the track, which is in addition to the simulator work he does in Woking,” at the factory.

“It’s great to see how this generation prepares themselves for this challenge in Formula One.”

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