Having started seventh on the grid at the Portuguese Grand Prix, Lando Norris was soon spotted weaving through the pack in front, making the Alpines and Ferraris appear sluggish in comparison.
It wasn’t the first time he has done that this season – and by the looks of his recent performances, it won’t be the last.
While Sunday’s race will be remembered almost solely for Lewis Hamilton’s clinical picking off of title rivals Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas, in F1’s midfield there is a driver who is fast turning heads.
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Norris is into his third campaign with McLaren at the frighteningly young age of just 21. The Briton, who is a regular points getter at a team that has aspirations of one day dominating the sport once again, has quickly learned to hold his own among the more experienced heads on the grid. And that’s where McLaren need him to be.
Before this season began Norris admitted that the pressure was on to keep churning out results. A ninth-place finish in the drivers’ championship in 2020 was an improvement of two from his debut season, but Red Bull had ditched Alex Albon over the winter in an exhibit of how cut-throat the sport can be for young drivers.
“I developed a lot of that last year but need to step that up. In many ways I think this is going to be my hardest season. I’m hoping the best season too,” he said on the launch of McLaren’s MCL35M car.
And on the basis of the first three races to this term, Norris is delivering on his promise. Like Bahrain and Imola, he started seventh on the grid in Portimao. From lights out he was hunting down positions and deservedly slipped ahead of Esteban Ocon before the early safety car. Plan A seems to work well.
What McLaren have come to expect from Norris is zero mistakes. And that’s what they get. He was arguably lucky when passing Sergio Perez not to be demoted a race position for going off the track – and in the end he succumbed to the Red Bull’s raw power – but the Bristolian kept his cool to effectively saunter to a fifth-place finish, to add to his fourth in Bahrain and third a fortnight ago. He has retired just once in his last 23 races and collected points in 19 of those.
And it is the confidence Norris generates from his composed racing that has got McLaren hoping that they may have a future world champion in their car.
For even after a third stellar run of the campaign, which keeps him third in the drivers’ championship and five points ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, Norris is not content.
“Confidence is definitely at an all-time high not just on the track but in the paddock, working in the team, they’re doing a great job, so confidence in myself and confidence in the team,” he said after the race.
“Things are going well, but they can quickly go in the wrong direction so we’ve got to keep working and keep pushing hard.
“A good few laps with a lot of wheel to wheel action. It would have been nice to stay ahead of the Red Bulls because we’re there on merit, we raced ahead of them, but we don’t have the pace to stay ahead.”
What a pleasure it must be for a midfield team to have a driver looking ahead to the podium spots, rather than behind at the chasing pack.
It is clear already that this season is 12 months too soon for McLaren to genuinely rival Mercedes and Red Bull for race wins. But come 2022, Norris may just be in a position to challenge for the title.