Lando Norris is undefeated in the battle for best of the rest in Formula 1 in 2021, having come home as the first non-Mercedes or Red Bull driver in every grand prix so far.
Those results – including a podium finish at Imola – have been enough for him to sit third in the world championship, with only Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen ahead of him.
It marks an incredible start to a key season in Norris’s career, where the arrival of Daniel Ricciardo as his new team-mate at McLaren is expected to provide a stern test.
Ricciardo isn’t totally comfortable in the McLaren MCL35M yet, but are we getting a clearer idea of just how good Norris is now?
Our writers have their say:
IF HE KEEPS THIS UP…
With Norris starring and Ricciardo struggling I’m half-expecting to see a few claims that McLaren only designs its car for Lando. That’s what happens when a good driver is doing a good job, right? It’s proof the machinery’s just great?
The reason I make that pathetic attempt at a joke is because I believe Ricciardo’s struggles show this isn’t a car that’s just leagues better in the midfield, and flattering Norris. It’s now quite clearly the quickest car in the midfield when at its full potential – but it’s Norris who is extracting that performance.
To have done it three Sundays in a row (four if you include Abu Dhabi at the end of last year) is a mark of how serious Norris takes his craft as an F1 driver, how he keeps finding ways to improve, and the harmony he’s enjoying at McLaren right now.
Is he part of F1’s elite? Not yet. Might he be by the end of this season? If he keeps Ricciardo at arm’s length (even if the gap doesn’t stay this big) then he has to be in the conversation.
HE’S TAKEN ANOTHER STEP THIS YEAR
Norris has achieved a new level of performance and consistency this season. While he’s been a good performer right from the off in F1, he’s been a little up and down as you would expect from a less experienced driver, but now he seems absolutely at one with himself, the team and car. That means he’s unquestionably operating at a very high level.
But we can’t yet say with certainly that he’s in the elite group until the battle with Daniel Ricciardo has played out. Norris had the advantage of being the incumbent driver and he has performed extremely well compared to Ricciardo so far, but we don’t know how things will shake out over a longer period of time.
There is one thing we can be certain of and that’s the fact Norris has indeed taken another step as a driver from last year. Considering he was ranked number 10 in The Race’s top 10 drivers of the 2020 F1 season, that puts him close to that elite half-dozen that Ricciardo is in.
If Norris keeps this up, and there’s no reason to suggest he won’t, then come the end of the season he will be jostling at the front of the group of drivers vying to break through as F1 race winners. That would represent a tremendous season for him personally.
Right now, he’s on an upward curve. It’s where he plateaus – or at least the gradient gets close to flat as it does for all drivers – that will dictate his ultimate place in the pecking order.
MERCEDES SHOULD TRY TO SIGN HIM
Lando Norris is a great F1 driver already. His 2021 results are those of a great F1 driver, and so were the results of his rookie and sophomore year.
He has never had anything but experienced team-mates in F1, and the way he’s compared to them makes it clear he’s the real deal.
In fact, given the context of him being the second-youngest driver on this F1 grid, it’s downright negligence that no frontrunning F1 team (McLaren’s not quite there yet) has taken a public interest in his services.
Mercedes should certainly take an interest – though under contract with McLaren, Norris would be a more inspired 2022 choice than Valtteri Bottas and arguably a more proven one than George Russell.
Surely it’s something that can be hashed out now that McLaren uses Mercedes power, with Russell a potential sweetener for the Woking team?
HE’S PUT THE SPOTLIGHT ON RICCIARDO
Drivers struggling to get up to speed at new teams is a theme of 2021 so far, so that means there’s an element of understanding around Ricciardo’s patchy form for McLaren so far.
But the spotlight is shining ever brighter on him thanks to what Norris is doing in the other car. If Norris was doing a solid but not spectacular job, the expectation would be that Ricciardo would eventually get on terms with him, and that a slightly sluggish start isn’t too bad.
But Norris has rocketed out of the starting blocks this year. He’s risen to the challenge of a proven race winner arriving at the team, which is a very good sign.
Ricciardo will get comfortable with this car eventually. But Norris has laid down a marker that offers no guarantees that Ricciardo will establish himself as the team leader when that happens.
That’s proof of the level he’s reaching. F1’s next superstar is arriving in front of our eyes, and it’s a joy to watch.
He’s doing everything right
As the old saying goes, ‘one swallow doesn’t a summer make’. But if we look at Lando Norris’s performance from late last year and this year, he is on an upward trajectory. He has definitely become a podium challenger on race day and is very good on that critical first lap.
So far, he has shown that he doesn’t make mistakes and he has also raised his game since Carlos Sainz got the call from Ferrari. And remember, with Ricciardo joining the team, there is really no hiding place. Daniel will take a little bit of time to adapt to the McLaren but hey, he is a seven-times grand prix winner, so moving teams should not be an excuse.
For Norris and McLaren, fifth is to them as good as a win is to Mercedes or Red Bull, so keeping the focus on where your real competition is is critically important. Moving into those top four positions consistently will take time.
Well, that is unless Mercedes opens its eyes and offers him a seat for 2022.