Three kinds of drivers always manage to make the headlines. First, those who win comprehensively, showing great resolve and speed. Second, those who manage a place or two albeit by way of subterfuge, possibly not at the back of the cleanest of maneuvres. And third, those who emerge as the sentimental favourites, perhaps because they continue undeterred despite having their day spoiled by a run-in with bad luck.
At the picturesque Circuit Paul Ricard, among the oldest racing venues on the roster, Lando Norris shone brightly in this third grid, so to speak.
By the time the final run of the 53-lap contest at Paul Ricard came about, the dust at the French Grand Prix had been settled. Hamilton was on his way to yet another comfortable win, his sixth of the year. Bottas, not nearly close enough to challenge his stronger, arguably quicker teammate was set for a second, and Charles Leclerc provided the only saving grace for the red cars given his third. But it wasn’t all.
An earnest young man, all of 19, was seconds away from the checkered flag. His McLaren was stacked tenth on the grid, way ahead of more experienced names such as Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen, Robert Kubica, Daniil Kvyat and the likes. Yet again, both McLaren cars, including Sainz’ had finished inside points.
Lando Norris gathered a fighting tenth at Le Castellet, and in so doing, his third points finish of the current season. Previously, he’d managed a rather impressive P6 at Sakhir, home to the electrifying night race at Bahrain, an impressive effort that would be followed by that P8 at Baku, not the easiest track to race at. But where the going gets tough, Lando Norris, the baby-faced but strong-willed character gets going.
In fact, it was pretty clear that at France, Lando Norris stood a great chance to finish well inside the top-ten. Some thought, he may even have gone on to hold onto a fifth. After all, that is where he’d begun his Le Castellet run from- isn’t it? But one wonders, what might have happened if the teenager would’ve gone on unscathed and untouched by the hydraulics issue that ultimately hampered his race pace?
Still, apart from another exhibition of nearly faultless driving by Hamilton and yet another Mercedes 1-2, their seventh of this season, we learnt that talent needn’t always rely on experience to see the light of the day. And that in Lando Norris, who did well enough to defend from a more experienced rival in Ricciardo- from the onset of Lap 47-51- despite not having any DRS on him, Formula 1 may have found a future star.
Here’s what laid the solid platform to Lando Norris’s French Grand Prix run, an effort that earned him the nomination of the “driver of the day”, not a feat one sees inexperienced, rather make that rookie drivers earn.
Before the final qualifying session began on Saturday, it was being felt that the McLaren drivers were perhaps in it not as regular midfielders. They were way quicker than the Haas, Racing Point and Alfa Romeos.
The general feeling upon seeing the raw pace of both- Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris– was that the two McLarens were going to shine through in the deciding session. And so it happened.
For a man who entered his first-ever French Grand Prix, Lando Norris gathered a career-best start, given his scintillating fifth on Saturday. At the end of the day, that he fought off against Ricciardo and a fast catching duo of Raikkonen and Hulkenberg of Alfa Romeo and Renault, respectively, we must give Lando Norris the credit he so richly deserves.
That he wasn’t going to play second fiddle to a more experienced teammate in Sainz was evident from his solid drives early on in the year. With 13 more races to go and his home race nearly upon us, one can only hope that Norris, 13 points and P12 on the standings, will only grow from here.