F2 Graduates: Lando Norris
We can take a look back at one of Formula 2’s most memorable characters, current McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris.
Born in Bristol, the British driver managed to clinch the 2016 Formula Renault Eurocup, Formula Renault 2.0 NEC and Toyota Racing Series titles all within a year.
He then stormed his way to victory in the Formula 3 European Championship the following year with Carlin, competing against current Formula 2 drivers Mick Schumacher, Callum Ilott and Guanyu Zhou.
After achieving second at the prestigious Macau Grand Prix, he didn’t have to wait very long for his F2 debut as he was called up to race in the second Campos car at Abu Dhabi a week later.
The weekend was mixed. After qualifying in 14th, he was forced to retire on Lap 6 of the Feature Race with engine problems. The Sprint Race saw him finish in 13th.
His maiden full season of Formula 2 saw him return to Carlin in their debut season.
From the season opener in Bahrain, Norris took the grid by storm. He clinched pole position, as well as a dominant Feature Race win and fastest lap.
The first half of the season saw him dominate the pack and at one point, he had a 27 point lead in the drivers’ championship over his nearest rival Artem Markelov.
He took a solid haul of points in sixth and fourth in the Feature Race and Sprint Race at Baku before Barcelona saw the British driver utilise the alternative strategy and take back-to-back podiums in third.
Nevertheless, his title campaign was marred by mishaps. Monaco saw him receive a three-place grid drop for impeding Alex Albon and started in 17th.
The Feature Race saw him receive a drive-through penalty after attempting to overtake Ralph Boschung, who was knocked into the wall. Despite this, he still managed to finish sixth.
The Sprint Race saw the Carlin driver initially finish second. However, 1.1 seconds were added to his time for a Virtual Safety Car infringement that saw him demoted to third.
Qualifying third in France looked promising for Norris. However, he was caught out by the Dallara F2 2018’s notorious stalling issues and was forced to settle for 16th.
The Circuit Paul Ricard’s Sprint Race saw him dice his way up the field to finish in fifth. However, compatriot George Russell was closing in, having slashed his lead to 11 points.
Spielberg marked a shift in momentum for Norris. Despite qualifying in second and retaining the place in the Feature Race, the Sprint Race saw him finish outside the points in 11th.
As a result, title rival George Russell snatched the championship lead after a dominant display at the Red Bull Ring.
His home race at Silverstone was a weekend of mixed fortunes. Qualifying in sixth, the Feature Race saw him stall in the pits and he was forced to fight his way to finish in 10th.
Norris then sliced his way through the field in the Sprint Race, including a daring double overtake on Artem Markelov and Nyck De Vries into Club Corner to take third.
He missed out on a crucial win in the wet-to-dry Feature Race in Hungary, after a charging De Vries managed to eat away at his 14 second lead, eventually passing him as Norris’ tyres faded fast.
Spa-Francorchamps’s Sprint Race saw Norris display some award-worthy defending from Alex Albon to hold on to second.
Monza saw the title battle rage on between the Carlin of Lando Norris and the ART of George Russell, with the fellow Brit’s title lead having been slashed to only five points.
He had to settle for sixth Feature Race and after contact in the opening corners of the Sprint Race, he managed to take fifth.
Heading into the penultimate round in Sochi, Norris trailed Russell by 22 points, 219 to 197 respectively.
The weekend saw a promising start with Norris putting in a brilliant late lap to start in second.
Yet the hoped-for fairytale weekend soon turned into a nightmare. Firstly, the Feature Race saw him stop in the incorrect pit box and drive off without his front-right wheel properly attached forcing him to retire from the race.
After recovering from 18th to 12th in the early laps of the Sprint Race, he received a 10 second stop-go penalty for being out of position when crossing the safety car line on the formation lap.
Eventually, Norris was forced to retire with a puncture after a collision with Arjun Maini. As a result, he was no longer in contention for the title despite his valiant efforts all season long.
The Abu Dhabi Sprint Race saw him finish on a high and take second, capping off a season of strong form and misfortunes for the young driver.
It was onwards and upwards for the 2018 Vice-Champion as it was announced that he would be partnering Carlos Sainz Jr at McLaren for the 2019 Formula 1 season.
The self-described ‘full-time Twitch streamer, part-time racing driver’ had an impressive rookie season in F1, finishing 11th in the standings on 49 points. Additionally, he out-qualified his teammate 11-10 across the year and signed a new contract to remain with McLaren until the end of 2022.
The 2020 season opener in Austria saw him achieve his maiden podium in third and become the third youngest driver to be on the podium in Formula 1’s history.
A further batch of strong performances has seen the Formula 2 graduate sit fourth in the F1 drivers’ standings on 65 points.
For those of us that have followed Lando Norris’ progression through the junior series, his exceptional talent and endearing personality come as no surprise and have rightfully earned him a legion of fans.
I for one can’t wait to see more from him and who knows, maybe he’ll be the first World Champion from the new era of Formula 2. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see….
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*Image Credit: Filipe / XPB Images