As McLaren reflects on its best constructors’ championship finish for eight years, Lando Norris could lay claim to being Rookie of the Year.
One thing is sure -- the three 2019 rookies: Norris, Alexander Albon and George Russell have all been stand-outs.
It’s always tough to compare. Albon has enjoyed half a season in one of F1’s top three cars. Norris’s McLaren has led the midfield. And the lack of Williams competitiveness has masked the potential of Russell, a driver who the late Niki Lauda believed to be a world champion in waiting.
Norris was clearly unfazed by coming into F1 at just 19.
SOUNDBITE (English) LANDO NORRIS McLAREN F1 DRIVER: “Being the youngest ever British driver in Formula 1 is quite a saying but I don’t think it’s going to put any extra pressure on me, to be honest. It’s not something I actually knew to begin with, so it’s not something I think about.”
What did put extra pressure on Norris was being paired with Carlos Sainz. A man who pushed Max Verstappen hard when they were Toro Rosso team mates. But Norris rose to the challenge. The average qualifying difference between them over the season is just over three hundredths of a second -- the tightest margin on the grid.
As well as respect, a rare friendship developed between the pair. In the Brazilian GP, Norris, struggling for grip, was not too big to pull over for his team mate, who went on to a first podium.
The team thanked Norris over the radio and told him it had been noted. Norris’s response betrayed his competitiveness.
“Yes but… I mean, I don’t do it out of choice, I do it because I’m @£#! slow!”
By any gauge, Norris has had an impressive season, on course for fifth place around the mighty Spa before cruelly robbed by a reliability issue. Not bad for someone who only left his teens the Wednesday before the Brazilian GP.