Lando Norris is at the tail-end of a break out season. Were it not for an ill-judged tyre call at the end of October’s Russian Grand Prix, he’d be F1’s newest race winner.
Despite that missed opportunity, it’s hard to deny the year Norris has had. Three podium finishes early in the year, the first of which involved a wheel-to-wheel fight with Lewis Hamilton in which Norris more than held his own, cemented the McLaren driver as one of the sport’s rising stars.
Norris’ stellar campaign featured another what-might-have-been moment. Just before Sochi, he finished second behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo at the Italian Grand Prix as McLaren scored its first victory since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix. It’s one of the few weekends Ricciardo has out-paced his British teammate this year.
For Norris, the good and the bad have been equally important in setting him up for what McLaren hopes is a return to winning ways in 2022, when F1’s teams hope for a shakeup of the competitive order with the introduction of new aerodynamic rules.
“I definitely feel much more confident that if I was to fight for a win suddenly in the first race next year, especially after being in the position I was in in Russia. I think I’d feel very confident in that position,” Norris said in a recent interview with select media, including ESPN.
“Of course I’d still be nervous and whatever but I think I’ll be a lot more confident than if I didn’t have the year I’ve had this year and experienced some of the things I’ve experienced this season. But I feel much more confident of knowing what I’ve got to do when I’m in that position.
“So I think from that side I’m ready for it. But I guess you never know how much better you’re going to do as a lot of it depends on the car and things like that, sometimes you’ve got to be lucky, sometimes you’re unlucky. I worked hard over the winter to make a lot of these improvements.
“One thing that made me very happy is seeing the improvements actually quite obviously have an affect and take place and show straight away in terms of results.”
He added: “Predominantly from a driver confidence, driver mentality point of view, I feel very confident. Whether that means we’re going to do well or not, we’ll just have to wait and see.
“From how I feel and what I’ve learned and things, then I feel like I can continue and make some improvements over the winter again and go into next year starting off how I feel like I’ve ended, which is still better than how I started this season. But the circumstances will just be so different in next year’s car.
“Maybe you’ll need different driving styles and things like that as it’s going to be a very different car.”
Norris knows he still has areas he needs to work on to keep his trajectory pointing in an upwards position.
“I’m very happy [with the season]. There’s definitely some things to still work on as there’s still some tracks and ways of driving I need to improve.
“When the car is how it’s been the last couple of years and I know exactly how to drive it, that’s when I can be very strong.
“But when it starts to become even trickier to drive, say the window’s like this and you have to be right here and that’s where we’ll be quick, but it’s very difficult to drive, sometimes on certain tracks there’s just no perfect performance window when it’s just a very difficult car to drive and we’re not that quick. Then trying to find how to drive that car is what I struggle with a little bit more.
“That’s one of my biggest areas to improve still.”