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Lando Norris: ‘I am not afraid in any way of Max Verstappen. I want to prove myself’
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Lando Norris: ‘I am not afraid in any way of Max Verstappen. I want to prove myself’

Lando Norris does not even try to suppress a playful laugh of self-recognition as he considers the proposition that, unlikely as it may seem, one of Formula One’s most striking talents shares a common trait with Springfield’s beer-drinking, couch jockey and all-round pop-culture hero, Homer Simpson.

“I am a big overthinker, I do think a lot about different scenarios good and bad, and I am absolutely critical of myself,” Norris says. So when it’s put to him that this sounds like the comical internal arguments Homer has with his own brain, the 24-year-old hoots in acknowledgment.

“Yes, I talk with my brain a lot,” he replies with a broad smile. “I am always in my head. It’s not that I don’t know how to focus, I am very good at thinking about many different things, at being able to focus on what I need to focus on. It’s more that I think a lot about certain things and I am not happy until I have an answer to whatever that issue or problem is.”

The driver, in his sixth season in F1, all of which have been with McLaren, rightly views this as a strength but is also conscious that it could be perceived differently when his thoughts are thundering about, clamouring for attention.

“I am self-critical and I know it can look bad from the outside, absolutely,” he says. “I watch my own interviews and I look so annoyed and unhappy. It’s because my mind is whirling, I’m thinking: ‘Why did I make a mistake? What happened if I did this or that? What if I had tried something else?’

Lando Norris’s McLaren at the Australian GPView image in fullscreen

“But I set high goals for myself, I know what I am capable of, I want to try to achieve great things and I am not going to do that by being complacent.”

Norris is far from the tousled-haired youth who made his F1 debut in 2019. He is physically bigger, the jawline is stronger and he is more confident, more at ease as befits a young man who has handled growing up in public with no little assurance and will compete in his 108th race in Japan this weekend.

His open embrace of the emotions racing inspires is one of the most endearing aspects of his character and has made him one of the most popular of the new generation of drivers. The emotions have ranged from his sheer despair after a win slipped away in the wet when he stayed out on slicks in the rain at Sochi in 2021, to his fury at blowing a potential pole in Qatar last year that could have put him in position for another shot at that maiden win.

The McLaren team principal, Andrea Stella, noted that Norris’s embrace of this is why he is becoming a more complete driver and why he has such huge faith in him. “It’s 360 degrees,” Stella said. “He goes from the self-reflection of the driver understanding when you don’t deliver, [then to] why?” It is, Stella has insisted, “world champion material, the underlying talent, the mindset, the work ethic. It’s all there”.

Norris, for all the pursuit of improvement, remains fond of joking and of a verbal spar, still trying to enjoy as much as he can the elements of the job most drivers only endure. He does not dash off answers but gives them consideration, not least when he feels he has been misinterpreted.

Last year, after signing a new deal with McLaren, he was criticised for saying he would not want to be Max Verstappen’s teammate, prompting accusations he was afraid of the Dutchman which he is more than happy to put to bed.

“I believe I can achieve a championship at McLaren, that’s why I signed another contract,” he says. “I absolutely think I can go up against Max and give him a good challenge. But I also rate Max, so for anyone it’s extremely difficult to go up against Max in his team and challenge him for a world championship. He could have moved to Mercedes back in the day and gone up against Lewis [Hamilton] but would it have been a smart idea to have done that? Probably not and he probably wouldn’t be in a Red Bull now and it would be a different story.

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“I am not afraid in any way of Max, I’m excited to be against Max. People rate him as up with the best, so I would like to prove myself by going up against that. I look forward to being able to battle him, but genuinely for position and not have him half a second a lap quicker and just drive past me.”

There is an honesty here then, a characteristic that is highly rated not only at the top at McLaren but by the personnel putting his car together.

Lando Norris signs autographs for fansView image in fullscreen

As reserve driver with McLaren, Norris would stay behind to help the crew pack up after a race and he still tries to forge proper relationships with them. The No 2 mechanic on his car, Frazer Burchell, cites times when the driver has arranged tickets for festivals or shows and the personal connection he makes which has engendered a camaraderie and affection for him. “He only has to be polite to us but Lando always goes much further than that,” Burchell, who wields the front jack when Norris pits, said.

Last year Japan proved to be one of the resurgent McLaren’s best tracks, with Norris and his teammate, Oscar Piastri, returning second and third place, and they will be optimistic at Suzuka this weekend. Norris has no doubts that elusive first win will come, one debate at least not given airtime in the internal dialogue.

“I feel on top of everything I can be in control of,” he says. “I’ve made a conscious effort of trying to find more improvement. To work on my weaknesses, of getting in the gym a little bit more, making better decisions. Little things along the way which add up over a whole season. I feel in the best place I have ever felt.”

Source: theguardian.com