My Experience Racing Lando Norris Back In Karting
Re-living the time that I was obliterated by McLaren's latest F1 star!
The year was 2012, the year that saw Maldonado win an F1 race, McLaren have an all-British driver pairing, and saw Vettel and Alonso fighting for their 3rd World Championship. This was my third year of owner karting, but my first year of racing at official MSA (Motor Sport Association) race meetings. I competed for most of the season at Hunts Kart Racing Club at the Kimbolton circuit, and having only previously raced on more compact kart circuits, Kimbolton’s fast and flowing nature was unlike anything I’d experienced before. In 2012 I raced in Mini-Max, the Rotax category for the youngest drivers. But racing here in the winter months turned out to be a real eye-opener!
Like F1, the Superone British Karting Championship has an off-season from around November to March. But karting teams don’t need to get to work designing new karts for the following season. Instead, these hugely professional karting teams descended on regular club meetings (like HKRC) over the winter months in order to keep the skills of the drivers sharp. It was the equivalent of Formula 1 teams entering their drivers for a Formula 3 race to make sure they didn’t get rusty! As you might expect, the Superone teams dominated. Among them, was a young Lando Norris.
Lando raced at the February and March rounds of that season as part of the RL team, also in the Mini-Max category. At the time, I was still on my ‘novice’ plates which are compulsory for drivers who are new to MSA racing. It also meant that I was mandated to start at the back of the grid for the two heats. My lack of experience combined with Norris’ experience of racing at a higher level, meant that (predictably) he left me far behind. Over the two race meetings I was around a second off his pace, and in the Final at the February round I was lapped by Norris on the final lap. Looking back now I distinctly remember him being in a 3-way battle for the lead on the last lap and I disrupted their battle as a backmarker!
After these two race meetings however, the 2012 Superone season got underway, meaning that Norris, RL and the rest of the big teams were gone again. From around June onwards, I started to enjoy success. I had managed to win the Club 2000 championship at Red Lodge Karting in the Mini-Max category, and while that wasn’t an MSA championship it was still a confidence boost for me.
I’d also managed to find a turn of speed at Kimbolton, scoring a couple of fastest laps and fighting for podium finishes. So at the November race meeting when I saw that Norris and his RL team-mates were on the entry list, I had renewed confidence, and I believed that I could take the fight to them!
Unfortunately however, this confidence was short-lived. My race meeting was underwhelming to say the least. I had a DNF in the first heat just 5 laps into the race, and while I did finish the second heat, it was in a meagre 14th place, with a lap time which was a full second off Norris’ pace. My DNF in heat 1 meant that I started 17th for the Final. I managed to recover to 15th but I spent a large portion of the race stuck behind a slower kart. If I’d managed to pass him I might’ve been able to improve my lap time by a few tenths, but I would still have been 5-6 tenths off Lando’s lap time.
By contrast, Norris dominated the race meeting, winning both heats and the Final with the fastest lap too. But that’s still not the whole story! In addition to racing in Mini-Max, Lando also raced in the Junior Max class that weekend, the next step up in the Rotax categories. Another step up in classes means an increase in minimum weight for driver and kart combined. If you’ve ever seen the old photos of Verstappen and Norris together in karting, you’ll know that Lando has never exactly been the tallest racing driver, and that back then he was especially short. Quite how much ballast was required for him to reach the minimum weight requirement for Junior Max I’ll never know!
As far as timing was concerned, the Mini-Max and Junior Max grids had just one race between them. This meant that, having just dominated the Mini-Max race, Lando would have to put celebrations on hold so that he could run around to the grid and get ready for the Junior Max race! Not that any of this was an issue for him of course. Having started in 14th for the Final, Norris recovered all the way up to 5th.
It’s fair to say that Lando left a lasting impression on me after that weekend (the main impression being how quickly he became a spec in the distance). The following year he won the World Karting Championships in Bahrain and the rest, as we know, is history. With his strong form and an increasingly competitive McLaren at his disposal, Norris is the most likely to be Britain’s next F1 World Champion. It’s strange to look back and think that I’ve raced against him.
Since then my driving has improved dramatically as I’ve raced in various championships over the years, and looking back on events like this, as well as seeing other drivers that have progressed into competitive car racing, does make me wonder just how far I could’ve gone in motorsport (especially if I’d started when Lando did at aged 7 instead of 12). But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s easy to ask “what if”. With all things considered, if I had the same resources and level of experience as Lando, he would still be far ahead.