lando norris formula one

Underestimate Lando Norris at your own risk

Gentleman’s Journal speaks to the youngest driver on the grid about Belgian food, iRacing and his podium finish at the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix

“FU*KKKK YEAHHHHH!!”

Language, Lando. Although he’s allowed to be a little overexcited. These are exciting times for the young racing driver, after all. Norris posted the all-caps, all-swearing celebration above on Instagram last month, just hours after placing third in the Austrian Grand Prix.

It was the first race of the season — and the first podium finish of the 20-year-old’s career. Not only that, it also made him the third youngest racing driver to ever stand on a Formula One podium. So you go ahead, Lando. Have a good swear.

Because your first podium is a big deal. It’s like the first time a musician places in the charts, or an actor’s inaugural award nomination. It’s your first big promotion, your offer from Oxford, your first Instagram to get over 100 likes. It’s a milestone. And it’s something Norris has been waiting for since he joined the sport as a junior driver in 2017.

“I like the tracks that are more technical,” considers Norris while talking through the appeal of his sport. “For example, Singapore, Monaco, Spa or Suzuka. And I’m really excited to be back racing now it’s safe to do so!”

Norris was contracted as a main driver for McLaren for the 2019 Formula One World Championship. And he’s had some big racing boots to fill — this is a team that Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost have all raced for. But the young racer isn’t letting those legacies get to him. After all, he says that, over the last few decades, the sport has changed beyond compare.

“I’ve never tried cryotherapy!” he laughs, as we scroll through a list of modern training techniques. “But we have to train every day. It doesn’t have to be a massive session, but everyday I’ll train my neck or my core or something to keep fit.

“And food-wise,” he adds, “I have quite specific things I need to eat. I lack in some areas with my diet as I’m not a big foodie. I mean I love food, but I’m quite picky, so I need to eat particular things to keep myself in good shape. I work hard with my trainer to make sure my diet is very tailored to what my body needs.”

But being half-Belgian — Norris’ mother is from Flanders and his father from the UK — the young driver has some continental European tastes that would make even the most stoic nutritionist squirm.

“Favourite food? Belgian chocolate!” Lando laughs. “Or chips with a bit of mayonnaise. That’s always the one thing you must have when you go to Belgium.

“I actually still consider Spa in Belgium one of my home tracks,” he adds. “Split with Silverstone. Because I’m definitely 50/50 — although I don’t speak a lot of Flemish. I love both places and have family in both. It’s just a cool thing to have.”

lando norris formula one

Despite maintaining strong links to his mother’s motherland, Norris grew up in Bristol. His father, Adam Norris, is one of the southern city’s richest men. This meant that, while his early years were spent “doing normal things, like playing sports, going to school, watching any motorsport on the weekends”, when Norris eventually decided to get behind the wheel, he had the means and money to do so.

“The turning point was when I started racing,” nods Norris. “I would be racing at weekends — more and more often as I progressed up the ladder. Soon travelling to Europe and then around the world.”

"I actually still consider Spa in Belgium one of my home tracks…"

“I knew that this was what I wanted to do by the time I was 13. By then, I could think for myself, and I knew what I wanted. Before that, all of the stuff I had been doing was for fun, and I never thought that it was what I was going to do for a career, for a life.”

And yet here we are. Just 71 laps into the 2020 calendar, and Norris showed the world that he deserved to be there. How? Unlike some drivers — including, surprisingly, the seemingly unbeatable World Champion Lewis Hamilton — who didn’t do a lot of training during lockdown, Norris spent the unexpected break honing his skills.

But, rather than getting behind a real wheel — his current road cars include a McLaren 570S and a Renault Megane RS — this meant plugging into a more virtual environment.

“In lockdown,” he explains, “training was still quite physical on the simulator. Every day was about keeping up with my engineers and doing anything possible to prepare and make myself better for the season.”

And Norris wasn’t only booting up the computers for his day job. A keen gamer, he also spent his lockdown playing games such as iRacing and Call of Duty.

“I have a pretty cool simulator gaming set-up at home, which makes the experience even better. But, of course, it’s still nothing like the professional one at McLaren! But it’s just such good fun. I love racing against people from around the world. I love the competitiveness, trying to push myself and winning.

“With iRacing,” he continues, “you can work hard on the set-up and driving style just like you would in real life — so being able to see the results of the preparation that you’ve put in beforehand pay off is one of the really cool things about it. That’s obviously very similar to real life. Even if the driving isn’t real, it’s still a lot of fun.”

lando norris formula one

As the youngest driver in the 2020 Formula One World Championship, Norris may always have one eye on the track — but the other is planted firmly on the future of the sport. He knows, that with clampdowns on emissions and pushes for sustainability, motorsports in their current incarnation can’t last forever. But neither, surprisingly, does that seem to faze the young driver.

“If everything stopped in real life, I would still be very happy to race on a simulator,” he admits. “It doesn’t give you the same sensation though: you can’t feel the speed, the wind, the noise. Nothing beats real life. It’s fun and accessible to a lot of people, and it is getting more realistic, but at the end of the day, you don’t get the same sensation as driving a real car.

“But Formula One has developed a lot over recent years in terms of emissions and sustainability,” he adds. “The cars we race have hybrid engines, for example – and there’s a lot of work ongoing in those areas of the sport. So everything stopping in real life? I don’t see it happening anytime soon.”

Want more from Formula One’s young racers? Nicholas Latifi is shifting gears…

Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.

Further Reading