Lando Norris might be about to prove pundits right over Mercedes’ George Russell call

Top Gear: Lando Norris performs donuts after completing lap

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The tears that streamed down the face of Lando Norris spoke louder than any words. Having led the Russian Grand Prix since lap 13, and defiantly held off Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages, a cruel twist of fate had ultimately scuppered his hopes of a maiden F1 win.

Late downpours had prompted Hamilton, and many others, into an impromptu pit stop. To the contrary, Norris and McLaren chose to gamble and stay out on dry-weather tyres in the hope the 22-year-old could nurse his tyres home.

It proved mission impossible, and by the time Norris did pit, the chance of a race win had elapsed and he would eventually finish seventh.

But his short-term heartbreak prompted long-term intrigue. Having qualified on pole, it was a weekend where Norris undoubtedly proved he could compete at the top end of F1. To delve deeper, would be to ask if Sochi will one day be seen as the catalyst for a world title win?

Admittedly, career stats of no wins, one pole position and five podium placements in 60 races, plus a most recent finish of sixth in the standings, appears a slightly underwhelming platform from which to launch a world title assault.

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Norris’ eventual total of 160 points in 2021 was more than 200 behind title winner Max Verstappen and runner-up Hamilton, and the pair’s combined total of 18 wins from 22 Grands Prix amounted to a gap between them and the rest that was, at the very least, substantial.

The sheer pace of Red Bull and Mercedes last season was such that in normal circumstances, touting any driver from the remainder of the pack to surpass both in 2022 would amount to wildly misplaced optimism.

However, the next campaign is intriguing for considerably more reasons than the prospect of Hamilton being hell-bent on revenge. New technical regulations will come into the sport, restricting aerodynamic testing and altering rules on tyre changes and power units.

Designed to make the sport more competitive, teams like McLaren, Ferrari, and even Alpine, have all been tipped for a tilt at upsetting the established order.

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The alterations should play into the hands of Norris and co. The numbers don’t tell the story of his last campaign, where he regularly proved a nuisance for the five drivers above him – such as the time he held off Hamilton in the sprint race in Monza.

While it was Daniel Ricciardo who took his team’s sole win at Monza, a race in which Norris was second, the British driver consistently outperformed his more esteemed teammate, and undoubtedly ended the campaign as McLaren’s premier driver.

Indeed, Norris possesses a maturity beyond his tender years. A sense of nerve, and composure, even when under pressure from those blessed with more formidable vehicles.

His social media presence, often viewed as a divisive and volatile concept for elite level sportspeople, hints at an individual unfazed by the limelight, something useful in a sport where intense scrutiny is impossible to avoid.

Such qualities, albeit more so the ones on the track as opposed to off them, have prompted many F1 pundits to argue Mercedes dropped a clanger when they opted for George Russell to replace Valtteri Bottas.

The time will come for Norris. He surely possesses too much talent for it not to. Asking for it to come in 2022 though, may be ambitious even with new regulations.

Should he defy expectations though, we could be in for another gripping title race – with an extra British dimension.

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