September 30, 2023

Lando Norris isn’t a muppet – he’s an F1 champion waiting

Lando Norris - British Grand Prix: Lando Norris isn't a muppet - he's a waiting F1 champion

Lando Norris – Getty Images/Bryn Lennon

Lando Norris wears a bracelet on his wrist at the British Grand Prix this weekend with the word ‘MUPPET’. It was given to him by a fan and he thought it was funny, so he’s wearing it now, along with another one that says “Let’s Go Lando.”

‘Muppet’, the McLaren driver explains, is a reference to his former team-mate, Carlos Sainz, now at Ferrari. “I always called him a muppet,” Norris says with a laugh. “The fans loved it and still tell me now. I don’t remember exactly how it started. I think I called Carlos a muppet in a video or something.

“I get a lot [of bracelets] from fans,” he adds. “I get more at the weekend and I will eventually exchange them. It’s just one thing I like to do.”

One thing’s for sure, “muppet” is certainly not an accurate description of Norris behind the wheel.

The 23-year-old driver took a sensational second place on the grid at Silverstone on Saturday, just two-tenths behind Red Bull’s pole-sitter Max Verstappen, leaving the 140,000 fans at Northamptonshire’s old airfield absolutely impotent.

After finishing fourth in Austria last weekend – Norris’ best result of the season – it all adds to the feel-good factor surrounding the British driver, who has become a firm fan favourite.

Norris tries not to get carried away. “I think I’m a bit surprised,” he told the media during the press conference immediately after qualifying. “I didn’t expect to be here this weekend.”

Norris has even spent much of the week this week talking about McLaren’s chances. Yes, they had a new front wing in Austria last weekend which turned out to have made a difference. Yes, they brought more upgrades to Silverstone here. But they wouldn’t suddenly be ahead of Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes, he insisted. It would take time to consistently challenge those teams rather than get the odd qualifying result at high-speed circuits such as Barcelona, ​​Spielberg and Silverstone, which particularly suit them.

Lando Norris' McLaren in action at Silverstone

Norris’ McLaren in action at Silverstone – Anadolu Agency/Rasid Necati Aslim

As boring as it sounds, he’s probably right. While Norris was second fastest in qualifying and rookie teammate Oscar Piastri third, there’s no guarantee they’ll stay there in terms of race pace. Or in Hungary in two weeks.
The question is: how long will it take McLaren to be consistently at the front of the grid again? And more to the point, will Norris still be around when they do?

The star of the Briton is on the rise. Norris is almost universally regarded as a potential world champion in the right car. Even Verstappen acknowledged that earlier this week. “If Lando were in a race-winning car, he would win races. It’s that simple,” said the two-time world champion.

Verstappen’s words were especially intriguing because Red Bull currently has a second driver who is in a complete funk. Sergio Perez retired in Q1, the fifth consecutive time he failed to make the top-10 shoot-out. The Mexican has a contract until the end of next season. And Norris is reportedly on a ‘watertight’ contract with McLaren until the end of 2025. A contract the 23-year-old has consistently said he will honour.

But everything and everyone in F1 has a price and if Red Bull wants Norris enough, that transfer could happen.

“Red Bull can’t afford to have such a good car and not have two cars for the championship,” former world champion Damon Hill commented this week. Daniel Ricciardo, should they decide to throw Perez overboard. “I think they want a fresh face. Possibly Lando.

Norris and Verstappen on the same team is an intriguing prospect

It’s an intriguing prospect. And what a combination they would be. Two old friends from junior formulas, who battle it out in the same team.

Norris laughs. As one of F1’s highest-rated and most popular drivers – he revealed this week that he is getting more and more unusual requests from his fans, but recently drew the line at “signing on a baby’s forehead” – he is philosophical about its current fate.

“I’m not a guy who wastes time wishing for something else,” he says. “When the time comes and something happens, something happens, but I don’t get carried away by it, no matter how much I daydream about things in life, like everyone else does.”

For now he just intends to bring McLaren back to the front. Results such as those in Austria last week, or in qualifying on Saturday, plus McLaren’s new wind tunnel and simulator, both of which will be taken into use this year, give him cause for hope. But it’s a matter of small steps.

“Of course I would like that,” said Norries when asked if he would like to finish top Brit this weekend, a clear possibility with Mercedes’ George Russell and Lewis Hamilton sixth and seventh respectively, and Williams’ Alex Albon eighth. “Lewis has had it for too many years. It’s time he let someone else go!

“But there is no jealousy. It’s like saying, ‘Are you jealous of Lewis Hamilton’s stats in Formula 1?’ As much as I’d like them, there’s just no point in saying “It’s my goal” because it’s absurd. Almost impossible. I just do my best in the car I drive. That’s all I can do.”

It turns out it’s more than enough now. The big dogs of F1 are circling. If McLaren doesn’t get their act together over the next few seasons, the muppet show will continue.

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