Lando Norris: exclusive interview with Britain’s rising star
RealSport sat down with Lando Norris to talk about his career so far, and what lies ahead in the future.
Lando Norris’ name burst onto the scene this week as he greatly impressed in his first time in a Formula 1 car, while testing for McLaren-Honda in Hungary.
The 17-year-old currently sits second in the F3 European Championship standings, and has raced in numerous series so far in his short career, including the Toyota Racing Series and Formula Renault 2. He is also a part of the McLaren Young Driver Programme and has caught the attention of many since testing for the team.
RealSport: What was the main influence behind your desire to drive?
Lando Norris: No one from my family were ever involved in motorsport, so no one from my family side of things ever pushed or put me into it. When I was young, around 5 or 6, I was quite interested in MotoGP and used to watch that a lot; my hero was Valentino Rossi. So, at first I actually started on motorbikes and enjoyed that a lot but randomly after school one day, my dad took me and my brother to Clay Pigeon, our local kart track, to watch the British Championship. At that point, I didn’t really know too much about racing and motorsport but I wanted to have a go at go-karting. So, for my seventh birthday I got a bambino go-kart, and it kind of just started from there, but I didn’t really grow up around at motor racing at all compared to what other kids nowadays have done so it was more of a choice of my own.
RS: How important of a factor do you feel karting is in terms of progressing into motorsport in the future?
LN: It’s definitely important I think, you learn a lot of skills in karting, just general race-craft, pushing yourself to the limit, trying to find a few tenths or hundredths here or there, and you learn the general outlines of what racing is about. But Formula cars is a different step, you are going much faster, you have down force that you don’t have really have in karting, and you have much better brakes. Altogether then, it is a big jump from karting, but when you move into Formula cars, you do take a lot of things you learnt from karting such as general speeds, you just know how to drive basically. And if you didn’t do karting, well I wouldn’t really know, because it’s hard to say as I didn’t do it, but I just think its general race craft and driving technique that you have learnt in karting that you bring into Formula cars. So, you definitely have an advantage over people who haven’t done karting before they go into cars.
RS: When did you start seeing motor sport as a possible career for yourself?
LN: Definitely in the first few years, I’d watch Formula 1 but it was never something that I thought, ‘I want to get there’. It’s maybe something I wanted to do and dreamed of, but it was more when I was 12/13 as I moved more into the European racing when it became a bit more realistic, and I could think for myself and knew a bit more of what I would have to do, if that was what I wanted to do, if I was going to go into Formula 1. So around 12/13, it became something I committed to and wanted to do with my life.
RS: From the race series you have competed in, which have you enjoyed the most?
LN: I’m not too sure, I’ve enjoyed a lot of what I have done really. I’ve not really done more than a year in a specific category, and I’ve always moved up into the next class every year, apart from the beginning of karting when I had to do cadets, which was for three years. Every time after then I’ve moved up and it’s been new challenges, new teams and I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s always been something different, and I have done reasonably well because I’ve enjoyed my driving all the time, meeting new people and going to different places. So, there hasn’t really been a specific year where I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than others. But, I’d like to say that this year has been very good and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. Really, it’s my second year with Carlin, so I feel very much at home with them. It’s a difficult question really.
RS: What is the importance of McLaren at the current stage of your career?
LN: I think it’s very important. I think I am at a point now where I’m not on the brink of Formula 1, but I’ve just been given a chance in Formula 1 to prove what I can do, and a point now where I feel reasonably ready for it. I think I did a reasonably well, and I hope it opens up more opportunities, and I think it’s better to do that earlier rather than later. I mean, it doesn’t hinder my F3 championship this year and I’m committed to still trying to win that. But, they’ve been very helpful in a lot of ways, from the physical side of things to more the mental side of things and just preparing for the test I did a few days ago. I have to be ready for that, I can’t just go in not prepared and just turn up and try and have some fun. It’s a valuable test for them, and they wanted to put someone in that they could rely on and trust, and do testing for them. So, they’ve definitely been a big step up for this year, they’re a great team and it’s great to be part of it.
RS: How useful do you see the testing you’re doing for McLaren – in particular, how useful did you find the Hungary test?
LN: I think it’s important for me because I got to have my first chance of the current era of Formula 1 car, and what it’s like to drive and how I cope. I think on that side of things and of how I did, I think it went very well, better than my own expectations. On the team’s side of things, it’s hard to know what they’re thinking. I think they were reasonably happy with how I did and we got through testing and bits they wanted to try with the car and try to develop, so I think on both the team’s side of thing and mine, it was a good day. Hopefully it will lead to more opportunities.
RS: How does it feel to have received the positive feedback from Zac Brown and Eric Boullier after the Hungary test? Does it boost your confidence?
LN: Definitely. They’re not just going to say it for no reason, they’re just not going to have a driver on their junior programme for no reason. Of course, coming from two guys who are a really big part of McLaren and pretty much run McLaren, it’s very good. They’ve brought up young drivers before, and seen drivers progress into Formula 1, so they know what they’re talking about. So it gives me more confidence if I was to do it again, that I’m able to cope with the hardness of Formula 1, and coping with everything. It’s a confidence boost on that side of things, so of course to hear those comments was very good.
RS: Do you have a schedule for entering F1? Have you made that with McLaren?
LN: No. Well, the aim is to be in Formula 1, let’s say within the next two/three years. There’s no specific kind of time plan or anything, it’s not like it’s going to be two years, or next year, or in three years. A lot of it depends on how I do this year and winning F3 is the best I can do, so that’s where my focus is at the moment and then I’ll see at the end of the year what I’ll be doing next year. Whether that’s F2, or Super Formula where they put Stoffel (Vandoorne), that’s not really up to me. I’m sure we’ll have that conversation a bit more towards the end of the year.
RS: Is going through GP3 and F2 your number one way to F1? Or would you consider jumping to Super Formula for example?
LN: I’ve never really known a huge amount about Super Formula, it’s only really the last year or two years when Stoffel did it that I picked up and knew what it was a bit about. Honestly, I don’t really mind, as long as I do the best I can and McLaren will be happy with how I’ve done, I wouldn’t really mind what category I go into. So, Formula 2 would be very good, I think it’s quite a fun car to drive, but Super Formula or F2, I wouldn’t really mind which one.
RS: Apart from Formula 1, what other race series would you like to race in, if any?
LN: I would like to do some endurance races, GT3, of course I’m doing Daytona next year in January, I’m really looking forward to doing that. I really enjoy the GT3 side of things and endurance races, I think that’s something pretty cool to be part of. So, if there’s ever a time where I’m able to have that opportunity to do it, then I definitely want to take it. Whether it is a 24 hour event like Le Mans, or Spa 24 hours, or something in America like Daytona 24 hour, it’s definitely something I want to tick off my list of driving. But it’s difficult, I have commitments that I have to be doing elsewhere, so it’s not the easiest thing to go and do something for fun, when you’re concentrating on other things. There’s quite a few different categories, I think DTM would be something pretty cool to do at one point.
RS: You could always do what Alonso did and go do the Indy 500 midseason?
LN: Yes, I think that’d be cool.
RS: Who do you consider is your biggest rival?
LN: I don’t think there’s one. If anyone it’s obviously Maxi Gunther at the moment. He’s in his third year of F3 so he’s experienced, he knows all the tracks, he’s done very well so far this year, and he’s leading the championship so he’s pretty much the main guy to beat at the moment. I have two very strong team mates, or three now. It’s very good now that they’re very strong as well and we always push each other to find the limit a bit more and they’re very competitive, so it’s good to have them on board. And I think they don’t make my life easy, but altogether we work very well. But there are other drivers like [Joel] Eriksson, or [Callum] Ilott, who make it harder altogether. So, there’s not really one driver, I think everyone from my team mates to Gunther and Eriksson all make it pretty tough.
RS: From the current F1 calendar, name three of your favourite tracks or tracks you would love to race on.
LN: So, I think everyone has to say Monaco, I mean I have raced there but in F1, it’d definitely be even cooler. Silverstone, I think if I was in F1, I’d like to drive there, obviously it being a home race, I think that’s definitely something that I’d choose as well. For the final one, I think that’s pretty tough. Spa, I really like it there, I’ve never been to the Circuit of the Americas, so COTA, I’d definitely like to drive that. Or Abu Dhabi or something, I don’t know, there’s quite a few tracks, I can’t really choose my third one. Maybe something like Abu Dhabi or Singapore I think would be the third.