Sky F1 expert Mark Hughes analyses Norris’ superb begin to F1 2020, which has shown he’s “very comfortable at McLaren and within the sport’s top category”; Plus, how Sainz dynamic has helped young Brit
Last Updated: 15/07/20 2:55pm
Team unity at McLaren played its part in the flying start to the summer season enjoyed by Lando Norris. But so also did the sophomore driver’s superb personal performances.
Norrs is flying high after the opening two races of the season around the Red Bull Ring. Over those two weekends he delivered performances full of sparkling moments of brilliance to get his second season of F1 underway.
There was his superb fourth-fastest qualifying lap for the Austrian Grand Prix and his stunning late chase-down of the 5s penalty gap to Lewis Hamilton the next day to secure his first podium. This was followed up a week later with a similar late charge that took him past three cars within the last two laps to win the ‘Class B’ battle virtually exactly in danger once again.
It’s clear he’s very comfortable in his environment at both McLaren and within the sport’s top category.
There were times a year ago when, for several his great potential, that he did seem like a rookie. Just small things, letting the create get away from him at a time of changing track temperatures, or leaving the entranceway open on-track in an instant of inattentiveness, with so many demands flooding his brain.
But in those two opening races he looked very much the finished product.
It was as if through the off-season his mind had managed to put all the component pieces together in precisely the required method to deliver – brilliantly – every time that he sat in the car.
The one exception was the three-place grid penalty that he picked up for passing under yellows all through Friday practice, when that he was perhaps distracted by chest pains, about which he said, “It’s not so much my back but something inside. When I hit the brakes and cornering I am getting some compression from the G force and it is causing a lot of pain.” The problem was ‘identified and understood’ by Sunday with the help of painkillers he was much more comfortable.
Norris, Sainz and McLaren riding high together
His arrival at McLaren, first being an occasional Friday driver late 2018, has coincided with the young team’s upward competitive trajectory. He’s section of that journey they are all on and it’s a happy ship.
It’s a really different dynamic to if the great champion Fernando Alonso’s late career days were being annoyed by the competitive limitations of the car/engine 2015-18. It was no-one’s fault, however the trajectories of driver and team are not well-matched also it inevitably created a tension.
That’s false with the Norris/Carlos Sainz partnership – and even though that pairing will be broken up next year, with Sainz’s recruitment by Ferrari and his replacement by Daniel Ricciardo, it’s still functioning well.
This harmonious relationship was actually an essential part of Norris’ result in the 2nd of the Austrian races. In the initial race Norris and Sainz were battling hard on-track, with both Sergio Perez and with one another, in the late stages. They even rubbed tyres on one occasion. That battle delayed Norris getting to within the required 5s penalty gap of Hamilton and might have cost him the podium. It did not, but only thanks to a quite stunning final lap, which also garnered him the extra point for fastest lap.
In the Styrian Grand Prix Sainz – with his own Class B-dominating race ruined by a long pit stop delay – played the team game to allow Norris on his much newer tyres to pass and attack those ahead. Without that, Norris would not have been around in place to took advantage of the Lance Stroll/Ricciardo Turn 3 incident to pass both them and the crippled car of Perez two corners from your home.
Norris and Sainz have an infamously great buddy, jokey type of relationship but remain deeply competitive with one another. It’s to the credit of them both that this hasn’t spilt over into any acrimony.
But Norris accepts it could not always be so and pre-season said, “We’re planning to probably drop out a few times when it comes to getting frustrated with one another, [if] he holds me up… or I hold him up or something. Not on purpose, because I do not think it will ever go that far. But you overlook a position or something because you’re racing, or you’re side by side and also you squeeze him and that he has to operate off or I have to elope the track. You’re planning to have something similar to that, and someone’s planning to be annoyed about it plus one of us will be unhappy. Yes, I think which will happen.”
In the first two races they’ve each qualified once on the second row and each set a fastest race lap. This looks set to be an epic intra-team contest and Norris is much better-equipped to fight it in his sophomore season.