Of the four rookie drivers in 2019, arguably the biggest pressure will be on McLaren’s young charger Lando Norris.
The 19-year-old is at a once-great team deep in its rebuilding phase, with its two most important signings, in technical director James Key and team boss Andreas Seidl, still yet to arrive.
McLaren also doesn’t have a great track record in supporting young talent, with Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne both gone from the roster.
And then there’s Norris’ sterling record to live up to…
…as a multiple junior series champion: with the MSA Formula title, Toyota Racing Series title, Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European and Euro cup, and European F3 in 2017. He was F2 runner up last year.
But Norris feels his former role as reserve driver has prepared him well.
SOUNDBITE (English) LANDO NORRIS,
F1 DRIVER, McLAREN:
“I learned some tracks I’ve never driven before, Japan being one of my favourites. But also being alongside the race team, learning from Fernando [Alonso] and Stoffel [Vandoorne], from everyone basically. Yeah, helps me prepare as much as possible for this coming season and then going to Barcelona and then Australia.”
And the team is also lifting its game on culture and team building.
SOUNDBITE (English) GIL DE FERRAN,
SPORTING DIRECTOR, McLAREN:
“We have a brand-new driver line-up, the first time in 12 years, if I’m not mistaken is the youngest driver line-up we ever had. And I think, I guess together with the same philosophy that we followed in putting the car together, it’s been the same with the drivers - which is getting the basics right and preparation.”
Another thing counting in Norris’ favour is the fact he’ll have Carlos Sainz alongside him, and not 2-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, who is a relentless competitor… and serial career destroyer.
Norris finished pre-season testing with the 10th best time overall, set on the softest C5s, less than two tenths of a second shy of Sainz, who he’ll aim to beat in qualifying in Melbourne.
But with Alonso attending the last test, instead of staying away on this his sabbatical year, it’s a strong sign he’s keen for a potential return in 2020 - making this a make or break rookie season for Norris.