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Formula One

Analysis: Lando’s Dream Start Encounters Trouble

Lando Norris racing for McLaren at F1 British GP. Photo by Guy Pierson.

Lando Norris (20) impressed the racing world early this season. The British driver scored his maiden podium in Formula One with the McLaren at the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix. Lando’s result came as an affirming “comeback” statement from the team, after finishing strong in 2019 with Carlos Sainz’ 3rd place in Brazil. Those who follow Formula One closely, however, would know that one does not simply become a contender for the lead (unless it is 2009 and you drive for Brawn GP), which might sound disappointing, but this is how the multi-million dollar racing business usually works. It takes time to develop. Then it takes even more time to apply in practice. Nevertheless, Lando Norris has been applying his driving skills ever since his debut in 2019. Therefore, let us discuss some of Lando’s trouble-bringing factors ahead of the weekend in Belgium:

Midfield Competition

Excluding Mercedes’ complete dominance in the lead, 2020 is anything but a predictable season. Currently, drivers 4-10 stand separated only by 25 points, which is exactly how much you would receive for a single race victory (4. Charles Leclerc – 45 vs. 10. Daniel Ricciardo – 20) Now, this might seem like a big difference, having in mind that Charles’ score more than doubles Daniel’s. Therefore, we can look at the scores from 2019’s first six races, which show a 21-point difference between P4 and P5 alone (4. Max Verstappen 78 vs. 5. Charles Leclerc – 57).

The midfield performance in 2020 is close, which allows for more competitive racing and dispersed points amongst the drivers. Hence, Lando Norris and McLaren have to constantly battle with Racing Point, Renault and Ferrari, without having an outstanding superiority over any of them. Ultimately, every single point is much more valuable this season, and a couple of DNFs or bad finishes might end up costing you 6-7 championship positions. One is sure – fans are being promised a spectacular midfield show until the very end. How exciting!

Car and Team Performance

Now, let us remain somewhat realistic. Although McLaren is often associated with success and legendary drivers’ names (James Hunt, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Mika Hakkinen, and others), much like Williams, the team fro Woking has been really struggling in the new Formula One Turbo era (2014-present). Thus, Fernando Alonso’s last several seasons with McLaren (2015-2018) disappointed the Spaniard enough to make him retire for the first time since 2003. The car just did not work. The Honda engines of 2015, 2016 and 2017 were extremely unreliable. Then in 2018 McLaren switched to Renault engines, which seem to be working better for them.

Objectively, their cars still lack the podium-bringing performance that Red Bull and Ferrari have had throughout all of these years. Has the team improved the car since 2019? Yes, significantly. They already have exactly as many points as they did at the end of the 2018 season – 62. Is it enough for more podiums in 2020? Probably not very many.

Lastly, McLaren are expected to switch back to Mercedes engines in 2021. The iconic McLaren-Mercedes partnership ended in 2014 after 20 years of racing together. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo will be the two drivers to race with the new McLaren-Mercedes cars. However, since season 2021 will see cars that are quite similar to the current ones, Lando’s primary job in 2020 should be data collection from the chassis, and personal feedback on the aero package. So far, Lando has been fulfilling these crucial needs.

Did Lando Simply Get Lucky in Austria?

Norris qualified 4th for the season-opening Austrian GP, right behind the two Mercedes drivers and Max Verstappen with Red Bull. Then he finished 3rd on the podium, thus making up a total of… 1 place. To be fair, however, Lando probably would have finished in the comfortable P5 without the Hamilton-Albon incident. But despite the incident, which resulted in a 5-second penalty for Lewis, Norris was still far enough behind to be considered a threat. To everyone’s surprise, Lando’s phenomenal run to the checkered flag set the fastest lap of the race and placed him within that 5-second gap to Lewis.

Although luck seemed to be favoring him that day, Lando worked hard to utilize the best of it and earn his maiden Formula One podium. It sure must be somewhat frustrating for Norris to settle for “decent points finishes” after such a strong start of the season. And frankly, why should he? If anything, success like that has the potential to motivate a driver like nothing else ever could. Being one of the youngest men on the grid, we could be almost certain that there is more to come for him in the future.

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