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Norris exclusive: I am already McLaren team leader

The fourth year McLaren driver believes he is now in a position to lead the team forward - as he exclusively told RacingNews365.com.

Now into his fourth season in Formula 1, Lando Norris has morphed from young-faced rookie to a driver capable of fighting with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. The McLaren driver is, up to and including the Italian Grand Prix, the only interloper onto the podium from outside the big three teams in 2022, with an assured drive to third at Imola. He has also comprehensively out-performed more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo in what has been a tricky car to master. The grand plan for McLaren boss Zak Brown was to hire Ricciardo as the team's lead driver while Norris continued to incubate before assuming that mantle for himself. However, Ricciardo - with the exception of that win at Monza in 2021 - struggled to gel with last term's car, and the expected reset with the new ground-effect breed of machinery in '22 has failed to materialise. His inability to match the results and consistency of Norris is hindering the team's chances of finishing fourth in the Constructors' in the battle with Alpine, and as a result, Ricciardo is out for 2023, with the final year of his contract being paid up by the team. Rookie Oscar Piastri is being drafted in after Brown and McLaren managed to snatch him away from Alpine after the contract "shilly-shallying" (as the Contract Recognition Board put it) with the younger Australian and his management left frustrated and open to exploring options for a race seat away from Enstone. This means Norris will assume team leader status at Woking - but as he exclusively tells RacingNews365.com, it is a position he feels he is already in.

Norris already feels like McLaren team leader

"I feel like I'm already in that position now," Norris says when asked by RacingNews365.com if he feels confident in leading the team forward in 2023. "I wouldn't say anyone in the team now [would say that] Daniel leads me and helps me do those sorts of things. "I already feel like everything I say has a lot of weight, [which] they take seriously and listen to, especially being in the position of extracting bit more potential out of the car over the last few years. "That's always something that's going to help so. "I'm ready. I've been with the team for five years or six years now [and 2022 is] my fourth year of racing with them. "I feel like I know them and we know each other well enough that we can extract everything out of each other that we can." One possible advantage Norris has over Ricciardo at McLaren is his familiarity with the team and its design processes. Ricciardo was at Red Bull, then Renault before landing at McLaren for 2021 - that's three teams, three design philosophies, three ways of doing things in just four years. That's a lot of acclimatising. Whereas Norris has been groomed by McLaren from an early age to race in F1. He was given FP1 runouts in 2018 ahead of his promotion in '19 to a race seat and is a 'homegrown' driver. That is something Norris himself picks up on. "I already work very closely with [technical director] James [Key], butI feel there's only so much you can do," he says about his input and feedback. "[There's a lot of] things I see saying that the car is based around me and designed around me and whatever. But it couldn't be more the opposite. It can't be [further] from the truth. The car is just the car that they build, and I just drive the car that they built. And it's exactly the same for both me and Daniel. "The only thing that's more personal to me is really the colour of my buttons on my steering wheel, which I would say brings no advantage from one driver to the other. "So there's only so much you can actually do in terms of helping in design, and it's not my job. I'm not knowledgeable enough in that area to advise on things. I just give my opinion when I feel like it's needed. And that's it. I wouldn't say I go any further than that."

Norris grades season

"Probably an 8.5, 8.8," he says when asked to grade his season thus far. "Some races have been extremely good. I saw a press release the other day, talking about my podium in Imola, which in some ways, I would say is probably my best podium I've ever had. "We probably had one of the slowest cars on the grid that weekend, and I somehow finished on the podium, which still shocks me. "But I am honoured to be fighting against Alpine, I think they've had a better car for the majority of the season. "They've just made more silly mistakes, the drivers have made more mistakes. And I've just been always there picking up the pieces from people making mistakes and crashing and things like that." Prior to the Singapore Grand Prix, Norris has finished five of the last seven races in seventh place, with a sixth in Britain and 12th in Belgium making up the other two. This consistency has him 22 points ahead of the lead Alpine of Esteban Ocon in the championship with 88, but is someway behind Hamilton's total of 168. Despite his efforts, the close-matched Alpine duo of Ocon and Alonso are just seven points apart, meaning it has 125 in the Constructors' compared to 107 for Norris and Ricciardo.

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