“I can see the orange fans all just coming to support McLaren.”
It was obviously tongue in cheek, but there was certainly an element of truth to the quip from McLaren’s young British driver Lando Norris. If you doubt that then just go back and listen to the roar when he was being interviewed after the race, this is a popular young man.
It’s almost a cliché at this stage, but it is honestly so refreshing to see such a personable young athlete in this era of media-trained robots. As others have speculated, lockdown was actually a big help for someone like Norris, whose infectious personality shone during his Twitch livestreams.
Italian Grand Prix
'That's how the rules should be' - Hamilton hit with Abu Dhabi memories at Monza
The thing is that he is also a seriously talented driver. This Sunday was Norris’ fourth podium in his young career in what was expected to be a solid McLaren, but certainly not spectacular. Yet that is what he has been so far. He’s only three points off Sergio Perez and nine ahead of Valtteri Bottas.
He’s not supposed to be there, we cannot stress that enough. Norris and McLaren are talking about how they think they can get at those two, but on paper he should be fifth in the standings. He’s supposed to be battling with the likes of Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. He is 39, 41 and 61 points ahead of those three.
- Verstappen extends championship lead, Hamilton fourth in Austria
- Austrian Grand Prix as it happened
- 'I'm disappointed' - Norris reacts to podium finish at Austrian GP
His overtake on compatriot and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was delightful and even Hamilton had to applaud. “Such a great driver Lando,” came the call from the Mercedes man’s radio. Those who know are more than aware of just how talented he is.
It obviously helps that he is absolutely adorable. You can see it in the way team-mates like Sainz and Ricciardo interact with him. Whether it’s cracking dad jokes or spontaneously bursting into fits of hysteria, Norris is a very easy person to root for.
And slowly but surely we’re starting to say the sort of things we used to say about Max Verstappen. “Let’s get him in a quicker car and see what can happen,” is the moniker turning up across social media and it’s pretty exciting to imagine. What’s even more exciting is that McLaren are seemingly putting him into better and better positions, they are clearly doing everything they can to help this young prodigy.
Speaking of young prodigies…
Maybe next race we’ll finally get to see George Russell in the points again! Honestly it’s hard to see what more he can do to earn some Formula 1 points. It seems as if it can go wrong for Russell then it almost certainly will. And if it can’t? Well the racing gods will find a way.
Russell looked poised for points on Sunday, but there were issues and then he found himself in a battle with a two-time world champion. A battle that, despite giving an excellent account of himself, he came up short.
Yes, Fernando Alonso is not necessarily someone you want to fight with as a young driver, but if you want any indication as to the esteem Russell is held in the paddock this is what the Spanish legend said afterwards.
"I feel bad for George. When I saw it was him and for P10, I thought, any driver but George."
There was also a very sweet hug between the two at the end as well.
But like Norris, don’t underestimate Russell’s talent. The fact that he’s getting this Williams car anywhere near the points is testament to what he can do behind the wheel. He’s only about 18 months older than Norris and it has to be frustrating to watch his compatriot shine in a car that allows him to do so.
But Russell is playing the long game. He’s no mug, he knows what is potentially at stake, and it might be coming sooner than initially expected. Russell was spotted chatting to Mercedes head honcho Toto Wolff after the race in the paddock. Hardly unusual for a team boss to check on a member of his talent programme, but it just feels as a change is coming, especially with Hamilton’s 2022 team-mate remaining unconfirmed after the Brit’s new two-year contract. Russell in a Mercedes? That’s what we want to see.
A quick point on Mercedes. It’s notable that Wolff said an upgrade was coming for Silverstone, after trying to pretend that was never going to happen last weekend. It’s also worth stressing that Bottas had a very good race in tough circumstances. If he does end up losing his seat for next season you’d have to think there will be a space for a man of his talent on the paddock, even with most teams seeming set for next year at least.
Let’s talk about the race winner before our final miserable topic. Verstappen was flawless once again, such was his dominance that he had time for a second pit-stop and still have a 17.9s lead at the end of the race. He is now the youngest to 50 podiums, beating Sebastian Vettel by 50 days, nearly two-and-a-half years earlier than Hamilton. It’s frightening how dominant he might be.
But of course Formula 1 doesn’t want that to happen, they’re doing their best to ensure we don’t see another driver do what Hamilton did. When you see what Norris and Russell did today you can get F1 are licking their lips in anticipation. Just imagine what will happen when they finally get a competitive American driver.
We have to talk about the officiating, even if we may not want to. We had more penalties than Euro 2020 in Austria on Sunday and some seemed fair, others seemed less so. It’s boring to go through each one and debate its merits, it’s frankly something we have no interest in.
What we will say is this: there has to be some kind of consistency. It’s staggering how contradictory these things can be and you can see the drivers getting more and more pissed off. Some races it seems they can get away with anything, others it feels as if they’re being called for the most asinine things.
The solution seems pretty simple, let’s bring in some fresh voices, eyes and ideas. Let’s mix up the pool of stewards and rotate it a bit more, with a clear directive from above on what they’re looking. Y’know, like FIFA, but actually competent.
Italian Grand Prix
'Frustrating' - Leclerc downbeat after safety car finish at Monza
Italian Grand Prix
Verstappen toasts 'great race' after moving to verge of F1 title
Share this article