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Formula 1

The curious case of Norris

Is McLaren's Lando Norris one of F1's most underrated prospects? Find out why the Englishman isn't yet considered part of F1's elite group of young drivers.

The future of Formula 1 seems to be in good hands. The likes of Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, and George Russell all have enough potential to carry the torch once Lewis Hamilton decides to retire.

In fact, Russell is in contention to succeed Hamilton if the need arises, especially after his performance at the Sakhir Grand Prix last year. While the current Williams driver is by and large considered by many as a potential future world champion, while his compatriot Lando Norris is somewhat in his shadow.

The McLaren driver has had a stellar junior career and based on results alone should be spoken about in the same manner as one would Russell, Leclerc, and Verstappen, however, his name falls through the cracks when discussing potential world champions. So why is this the case?

Junior Career

Norris has had an exceptional junior career winning almost every category he has competed in. The driver from Bristol became the youngest ever karting world champion in 2014 and proceeded to rack up a series of titles more often than not in his first year in the category. Between 2015 and 2017 Norris racked up five titles, being a rookie in every single one of those championships.

The only real blot during Norris' ascent to Formula 1 was in 2018 when he lost out to George Russell in the FIA Formula 2 championship, a distant 68 points behind his countryman. Given that both drivers were rookies, it has helped Russell get a leg up on Norris in terms of perception as this was the only year the two competed with each other outside of Formula 1.

F1 debut

Norris had a steady rookie campaign in Formula 1. He finished 11th in the standings, missing out on the top 10 by three points though he would finish 47 points behind his teammate Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard also finished on the podium once in Brazil and on the whole proved to have the upper hand over his teammate.

This is the second blot on Norris' copybook as the aforementioned drivers all dominated their teammates in their rookie campaign. Verstappen in fact outscored Norris' then-teammate Sainz by more than double his points tally, while Leclerc beat Marcus Ericsson by over four-times the Swede's points haul. Russell meanwhile has never been out-qualified by a teammate when he has raced for Williams.

An argument could be made that none of the other drivers had to compete with a teammate that was as good as Sainz (Verstappen and Sainz were both rookies when they were teammates, while Sainz was in his fourth season during Norris' rookie campaign) but Norris failed to get the upper hand over his Spanish teammate even during their second year together.

Moment of brilliance

Norris' most memorable moment in the sport came at the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix, when the British driver drove at the absolute limit on the last lap of the Grand Prix, to claim the final podium position by a mere two-tenths of a second. Norris displayed both calmness and his latent speed, announcing himself as one to watch for the future at the end of that race.

In contrast Verstappen, Leclerc, and Russell have all led Grand Prix and if luck favored Russell all three would have had race wins by now. Yes, each of those drivers had a car that could deliver on the given day, but the manner in which they stamped their authority is what marks them out as future world champions.

Verstappen made full use of his Red Bull debut, taking advantage of Mercedes' misfortune and beating out the Ferrari cars as well as his teammate during the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.

Leclerc fought off the advances of Hamilton and maintained his composure at Monza to win the Italian Grand Prix while he was driving for Ferrari no less.

Russell meanwhile left his more experienced teammate Valtteri Bottas in the dust at Sakhir last year, proving that he has what it takes to win a Grand Prix.

Norris bar Austria has yet to display that kind of authoritative performance.

Looking ahead

The arrival of Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren should be looked at as an opportunity for Norris. The Australian is regarded by many as one of the sport's brightest talents, and beating a driver of Ricciardo's caliber will surely boost Norris' stock.

Further, as he enters his third year in the sport, Norris is getting to the point where he has enough experience to start challenging those at the front of the pack more consistently. The McLaren MCL 35M also seems like a capable car based on its testing performance and it's sure to suit the British driver's driving style given that Ricciardo was still a Renault driver during the bulk of the car's development.

Beating Ricciardo will be no easy feat, the Australian is a seven-time Grand Prix winner and has already stated his ambition is to win a Formula 1 championship. That being said, if Norris can gain an upper hand over the Australian, then he must surely be regarded a future world champion.

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