Formula One release look at 2020 title sequence
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One of Britain’s youngest F1 sensations, Lando Norris, faced a challenge before the first race of the Formula One season even got underway. How was he going to manage having the highly-regarded, seven-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo as his team-mate at McLaren?
Many might have predicted that his position within the British team would be eclipsed by Ricciardo’s experience. Yet the 21-year-old from Bristol made his stand at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last weekend.
A mature display of skill to finish third was a clear statement of intent to McLaren – that Norris believes he is the driver to take the team to their first Drivers’ Championship since Lewis Hamilton in 2008.
Unlike several of the drivers on the F1 grid who have made the glamorous Monaco their home, Norris has instead chosen to stay close to the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking.
When asked by Express Sport whether being close to the factory, unlike Ricciardo, is more beneficial for the team, he replied: “Difficult to say. Daniel [Ricciardo] has done a decent amount, he’s done quite a few days at McLaren especially in the very beginning of the season, just getting to know everyone and things like that.”
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Team dynamics can make or break drivers’ chances and despite having been in the McLaren fold since 2017, Norris recognises how important continuing to build a strong relationship is beyond the core trackside personnel.
“Even though I’ve been there for what, four years now or something, I still went on a little, not tour, but just went round all the departments the other day, meeting all the guys and girls from the night shift, day shift, and everything,” he explained.
“Just popping in and saying hello, showing my face around, because they don’t always get to see the drivers and things like that,” continued Norris.
Following the example of Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton or even Ricciardo’s former team-mate Max Verstappen, it would be understandable that Norris would want to ensure McLaren’s future is shaped around himself.
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Yet despite the precedents in F1, he underplayed the role this could have and insisted that the ultimate goal was to push the whole team forward.
“I think Daniel’s done similar things to that, so it’s not to win them over or anything like that, it just helps them out, helps both of us out, not just myself.
“It’s just a win-win for both of us really,” he added.
Norris’ growing confidence was out in full force at Imola on Sunday.
Recovering from a poor start that saw him narrowly avoid contact with his team-mate before incident with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll dropped him down to ninth. Norris then charged back through the field, only to be stuck behind Ricciardo.
Norris made his feelings known, informing the team that he couldn’t utilise his quicker pace and needed to get past his team-mate and into clean air. McLaren then chose to swap their drivers around, a move that proved to be crucial and allowed Norris to take advantage of Charles Leclerc’s issues at the restart.
Even seven-time world champion Hamilton didn’t have an easy task trying to pass him. Norris managed to hold him off for several laps with, until the quicker Mercedes inevitably passed him for second.
The third place, his second podium in Formula One meant that he now sits third in the drivers’ standings on 27 points, nearly double Ricciardo’s points haul so far.
Speaking to Sky Sports F1 after the race, Norris acknowledged that the transition from rookie driver alongside Carlos Sainz Jr. to teaming up with Ricciardo, has meant that he had to take on a greater level of responsibility for the team and himself.
“I have a slightly bigger role leading the team in different areas and making more decisions from my own regards and not just always agreeing with the team.
“A little bit different with Danny [Ricciardo] coming into the team. I feel like I have to have a bigger impact.
“I feel like I have to think about myself more,” he added.
Norris will be hoping that his strong run of form continues next time out in Portimao on April 30. If it does and Ricciardo struggles to adapt, McLaren could have a fight on their hands when choosing their number one driver.
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