Lando Norris is a name you’ll hear a lot in the coming years. In December, Lando won the coveted McLaren Autosport BRDC award, and just a few weeks ago, McLaren announced that he’d be joining its junior programme.
Badger’s Rob Watts caught up with Lando to discuss his award win and his recently announced new role with McLaren.
RW: First of all I have to start by saying congratulations on winning the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award. Now you’ve had time to reflect on it, how do you look back on the last twelve months?
LN: I guess it was pretty perfect, in most ways. Mainly because I won all the championships that I set out to win. The one that really topped off the whole year was winning at the Autosport Awards. Already before that, I’d won TRS plus Renault NEC and EuroCup titles, so to win that as well really topped off already what was a great season.
RW: I think in your career so far, you’ve driven in eight or nine different series?
LN: Err.. (counts on his fingers) Ginetta, F4, BRDC F3, FIA F3, EuroCup, TRS…
RW: Are you going to tell me it’s actually more than that?
LN: DTM and GT3 as well if you count the cars I drove in the Autosport Awards competition!
RW: That’s a lot of different types of cars! At the stage of your career that you’re in, what do you see as the benefit in driving so many different cars in one year?
LN: For me, learning to adapt when moving from one to the other, going from a smooth European track with plenty of runoff to then somewhere like Brands, Spa, Silverstone, Rockingham; all very different, confined racetracks with no runoff.
Being with Carlin – we didn’t know at the time that I would be with Carlin this year- I got to know a lot more things about different cars. So I know what it might do, for example, if it’s on Pirelli tyres, or Michelins, or Hankook, I’ll know what it’s doing.
RW: Tell me a bit more about the McLaren Autosport assessment – you drove a DTM car, an F2 car, and a GT3. I recall Derek Warwick saying that you were particularly impressive in the F2 car. How did all the different cars compare?
LN: The GT3 was something like I’d never driven before, so for me, it was completely different. It’s a big car, it’s got ABS, traction control, just the whole feeling of the car is just refreshing from what I’ve driven in the past.
The F2 was difficult to get to grips with initially, mainly as it had more power than anything I’ve driven. You put your foot down, and there was a slight delay and then all of a sudden it would kick in. It was definitely something you had to learn to control, but it had the GP3 Pirellis which gave a lot more grip. The qualifying rounds were one lap, maybe two, which is all you need, and that’s why I feel I did pretty well; nailing it on that one lap.
The DTM was a very cool car to drive, much higher downforce than I thought – I didn’t expect the cornering speeds would be so high at corners like Maggots, Becketts and Stowe. Not too far off an F2 car, or an F3 car, which took me by surprise.
RW: Now you’ve driven something like the DTM car, has that opened your eyes to other forms of racing other than single seaters?
LN: Definitely. As soon as I drove the car – not just the DTM but also the GT3 – I thought ‘I want to do a race in this’ like the Spa or Le Mans 24 Hours, or the Blancpain series. Hopefully this year I’ll be able to go out and speak to whichever team has a drive, maybe one guy has to go and do another championship or something. I would love to do a race like that.
RW: Since winning the award, your association with McLaren is now an official one. How did the role (in McLaren’s junior programme) come about?
LN: We’d spoken with a few teams, seeing what they had to offer, but none of it was to go straight into contracts or deals, it was just getting to know the [junior team bosses] see what they did, what they could offer and what they were looking for.
After we spoke to a few we decided that it was really only McLaren as they offered the best help and support, and best programme to help me progress to a possible F1 seat in the future but still decided to not go with them just yet.
This was all pre-McLaren Autosport BRDC tests. After winning this and being on the radar a bit more, McLaren approached me again. We decided it was a very good deal, with a team with an amazing history, and overall the whole package was something I really couldn’t turn down.
RW: With this new backing from McLaren, are there any obstacles you think could still prevent you from earning a race seat in F1?
LN: Timing always has a say in anything that happens. If contracts expire, or if more young drivers are coming in – it depends on what is going on in Formula 1. With these new rule changes coming along maybe some teams would want new drivers, maybe they want a more experienced driver. Like McLaren with Fernando Alonso, he knows what everything would normally feel like and gives great feedback – taking Vandoorne will give new experience compared to what Alonso is used to.
There’s also a few other drivers that are close, like George Russell, de Vries, LeClerc, and whoever has the roles of testing in Formula 1 on Fridays. There are other people to compete against to get those seats.
RW: When you see guys like Ocon and Verstappen in Formula 1, it seems as though the grid is getting younger and younger. Is that a good thing for you, or does it put more pressure on you?
LN: I don’t really feel any pressure from that. It’s not something I really think about or care about too much. I don’t necessarily think ‘I have to be young when I go in’. I could go in next year, but it’s more realistically going to be in two or three years.
Take Vandoorne for example, he’s six years older than Verstappen, but you’d still class him as young, wouldn’t you? So there’s still plenty of opportunities with me being seventeen now. If I compare myself to him, that gives me possibly another six or seven years to reach Formula 1.
RW: A new experience awaits you in Euro F3 this year, what’s your aim for this coming season?
LN: Winning the championship has to be the aim. It’s the hardest one to go in and win the first year, out of all the championships I’ve done. People have done it in the past, so I think it is possible. A lot of the drivers will have more experience at some of the tracks we’re going to – like Pau, I’ve never been to before. I definitely think it’s going to be a tough season, but I feel confident with Carlin.
RW: Have McLaren set you any targets this year?
LN: They haven’t really set any targets for me, they understand that I know the best way to impress is to win, and if I don’t I hope myself and the team showed as a team we did the best we could, I guess we will have to wait and see.
RW: Can you tell me a little more about the support you’ll receive from McLaren this year? How do you think McLaren’s support’s will benefit you?
LN: I’ll have some help with the aspects of media and PR, but the biggest help would be going to use their facilities for training. That’s probably one of the biggest areas I’d need to improve if I am going to make it to Formula 1.
If I were to go in now, the physical side would probably be one of the biggest things I’d struggle with. I’ll also be in the sim helping to develop the car, trying out front wings or whatever they want me to do. I’ll be trying to learn as much as I can in preparation for my test at the end of the year.
RW: And finally, Eric Boullier has admitted that he’s not sure Fernando Alonso will stay with the team next year; is there a chance you could take this place?
LN: I think it’s too early to tell, I just need to focus on doing as well as possible this year in F3. There are two other really good drivers that are part of the McLaren-Honda Young Driver Programme and my only way to prove I deserve the drive is by impressing them this year, and that’s mainly done by winning.
Lando’s Euro F3 season begins at Silverstone on the weekend of 14-16 April
Many thanks to Lando for his time.