Why Lando Norris has changed Formula 1 forever.
You mean like, forever?!
Although Lando Norris is only in his second season in the sport, I don't think we've seen a more influential driver over the last ten years, maybe even longer. The young British racer has not only changed the perception of McLaren, but also the sport as a whole. He's been criticised for not taking Formula 1 as serious as he should do, but I think this is far from the truth.
Let me explain.
Credit: Lando Norris (via Youtube)
Lando first started to rise in popularity way back in 2017, the year in which he won the European Formula 3 championship with Carlin. At the tail end of this year was when he started streaming on Twitch, and at around the same time became involved with McLaren.
He was then announced as a Formula 2 driver for Carlin, and at the final test in Bahrain, we saw the first LandoLOG posted on his YouTube channel. This was, for me at least, the moment I realised Norris could be a driver to watch out for. Even though he wasn't a Formula 1 driver at the time, we still had never seen a driver at any level share so much of his life on social media. It was also the first time for a lot of people that we got to see his personality, and in the following days, he released even more content on his channel. He has continued to post these vlog-style videos, with many getting close to or surpassing one million views.
He kept interacting with fans on social media during his year as Mclaren's reserve driver and arguably went into Formula 1 in 2019 as one of the most well-known rookies ever.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Norris was the first out of the current grid to start streaming his gaming exploits on the platform. He didn't always stream as much as we have seen during this recent lockdown period, but that's not to say he didn't have a substantial following beforehand.
It could be argued that without Norris already being familiar with streaming, we may have never have seen other drivers jump on the bandwagon during the break. I say this because Norris is good friends with both Alex Albon and George Russell, who alongside Charles Leclerc were regularly seen racing each other online. Whether they were racing Formula 1 cars, lorries or lawnmowers, it allowed fans to see a different side to all of them, a side which is normally hidden on a race weekend. He has also contributed to changing the perception of Max Verstappen, as many viewed him as a very serious and media-shy driver up until he joined Norris on iRacing. Norris also convinced the Dutchman to create his own Twitch channel, but he's still not as keen about the idea as Norris.
The pair are both a part of the professional sim-racing outfit Team Redline, and have often been seen winding each other up during races and on each other's streams. For example, before Norris took part in the virtual Bahrain Grand Prix, he called Verstappen to ask for advice. Verstappen joked and told him to 'send it' into turn one, and I've included the video of the call below.
Norris entered all but one of the Virtual Grand Prix's that Formula 1 organised, and fans watched along as his internet connection failed him. Formula 1 themselves streamed the races on Twitch, but it was Norris that attracted more viewers. He seems to have a natural ability to talk to his chat (the viewers) whilst driving, and has a long-running joke that it is their fault when he makes a mistake. People were not tuning into Norris' stream to see the racing necessarily, they went to see Norris. It's a way to connect with their favourite driver in a much more personal way than a perfectly crafted social media post or an interview on a race weekend. Norris managed to attract over 100K concurrent viewers on one occasion, a feat which is rarely seen on the platform.
It also allows him to attract a completely different fanbase than a lot of Formula 1 drivers, and especially during the lockdown period he has brought a lot of new, younger viewers to the sport. Attracting younger viewers is key for the survival of Formula 1 in the future, and the sport has finally recognised the importance of social media since Liberty Media came in.
It is also important to Liberty Media that the sport can grow its fanbase in North America, and Norris' participation in IndyCar's iRacing Challenge really helped with this endeavour. The series was shown live on NBC during the lockdown, one of America's most popular channels. Norris competed in two races in the series, winning the race at the Circuit of the Americas. He also looked like he had the Indy 500 in hand until he was taken out by Simon Pagenaud on purpose. This may not have been the result Norris wanted, but it definitely got people talking about him.
Norris does not only stream sim-racing on his channel, as in the early days we were able to watch him play the first-person shooter Tarkov and more recently Call of Duty: Warzone. He has not only become a very highly skilled Warzone player, but he has also attracted the attention of some of the most popular players in the world. It is now a regular occurrence to see him on a team with the likes of Vikkstar123, Calfreezy, Miniminter, CouRage and various other members of the Sidemen. He has introduced them to the world of Formula 1, and because of this, they all tweeted messages of support over the Austrian Grand Prix weekend to their millions of followers.
Norris continued to stream over the race weekend, allowing us to go behind the scenes at the circuit even though it was held behind closed doors. He streamed when he got to the track on Wednesday, and also to give us his reaction to his podium finish on Sunday. He is a driver that clearly goes above and beyond to interact with his fans, taking us on a late-night walk around the Red Bull Ring as he read his live chat messages from around 20K viewers.
In a recent interview with the newspaper i, the young Brit opened up on his streaming antics: “At home, you’re driving in different cars – Formula One, GT, real-life cars – and you’re racing whereas [at the factory] you’re just driving around on your own for hours and hours."
“I only do the simulator at home and the streaming for enjoyment. That’s not work at all. I don’t need to do that, I don’t have to. I just do that for fun – and I make a little bit of money out of it. I’m with my mates, we’re chatting online, we’re racing or playing a game. We’re just having fun.”
This comment was left on YouTube, and it perfectly sums up what I am trying to say about Norris.
Norris was also the first driver out from the grid to take YouTube seriously, and his success on the platform with the LandoLOG has inspired his teammate Carlos Sainz to also post a few videos over the past year. As I mentioned earlier, the LandoLOG is a series of behind the scenes, vlog-style videos that are put together by Lando and his management team. They are always very popular when they are posted, with the most recent video documenting what happened when Norris and Sainz took to the track in both Carlin Formula 3 cars and go-karts in the warmup to the season.
Norris has also starred in videos for other popular YouTube channels, such as Casey Neistat and the aforementioned Vikkstar123. This is again important for attracting younger viewers to the sport, as I'm sure a lot of Neisat's twelve million subscribers have never even watched a Formula 1 race, nevermind know anything about the drivers. One of the videos he has featured in has over two million views at the time of writing, which is a lot of eyes that have now been opened to the world of Formula 1.
He also starred in the first season of Unboxed, McLaren's own behind the scenes video that is posted after each race weekend. This series also demonstrated the importance of a YouTube presence for the teams, as it again allowed fans to get closer to the action and see the inner-workings of a Formula 1 team.
I think it could be argued that without the chemistry that Norris and Sainz have, then McLaren would have never started producing the brilliant Unboxed videos. His willingness to be on camera and share his experiences is vital to the success of the series, and I could not imagine some of the other drivers doing this and it definitely would not have happened in the Ron Dennis/Fernando Alonso era.
Over the years, Norris has earned the title of 'the memelord of Formula 1'. This is because of the way he regularly jokes with other drivers on social media, and is also never shy to take the piss out of himself when the time calls. As I am sure you have realised by now, Norris is very active online and often posts funny images (memes) across his various platforms.
This is also how a lot of people were introduced to him, as a picture of him sitting in the gravel after being hit on the final lap of the Formula 3 race in Austria went viral. The hashtag #PlacesLandoWouldRatherBe started trending on Twitter as he was placed side-by-side with the famous photo of Fernando Alonso sat in a deckchair. I've included some of the best I could find below in the photo gallery, along with the original photo which Lando shared.
When most drivers crash out of a race, they usually prefer not to talk about it and almost never post about the incident on social media. However, Norris is not like most drivers: he was the one who started the trend, and fully embraced the memes that followed. We have also seen this is his Formula 1 career, as he edited a video of his crash with Daniil Kvyat at the Chinese Grand Prix to make it look as if he sent him into space.
Norris' humorous posts on social media have also influenced other drivers to do the same, and up until he arrived in the sport it was really only Daniel Ricciardo that was seen as the big personality on the grid.
Again, it appears to be Sainz that has been influenced the most by Norris when it comes to social media. The Spaniard was not that well known before he joined McLaren, as he never really had the car to score some stand-out finishes and his time at Toro Rosso was overshadowed by the rise of Verstappen. He also kept himself to himself online, but since partnering with Norris his social media following has grown dramatically.
This was obviously going to happen due to his excellent 2019 season, but he also gained popularity for regularly joking with Norris. He famously posted a photo of what was dubbed 'Baldo Norris' on Instagram, an edited version of Norris but with a completely bald head. This is the kind of content that is usually reserved for places such as r/FormulaDank on Reddit, but it great to see the drivers getting involved with the memes.
Credit: @carlossainz55 on Instagram
I do not think this would have happened if it was not for Norris' lightheartedness and very open approach to social media, and I think you'll agree that the Formula 1 world is better off for it.
Is he taking the sport seriously enough?
Norris has been criticised in the past for not taking the sport as seriously as he should do, but in my opinion, this is completely false. Formula 1 has been in a constant battle with its own reputation for many years now, with a lot of people seeing the sport as very closed-off and elitist. Norris is contributing massively in the efforts to change this opinion, and as I have said previously it is vital that younger fans are attracted to the sport. If you look at the social media accounts of the sport, teams and drivers over the last couple of years and then compare it to five years ago, there is a monumental difference.
This change was driven by Norris with his new approach to interacting with the fans, but you cannot convince me that this approach has hindered his racing. The result he managed to achieve in Austria only confirmed this to me, as it comes off the back of a period that has seen Norris use social media more than any other time in his career. I think his social media use and his interactions with fans keep him in the right state of mind to go racing, and it is a goldmine for his McLaren team. Zak Brown can now approach sponsors that the team would never have had the chance to work with in the past due to Lando's broader outreach, and I am sure brands will be keen to work with Norris personally.
Another YouTube comment which again perfectly sums up what I'm trying to say in this article.
In conclusion, I hope this article has opened your eyes to the effect that Norris has had on the sport. Like I said in the title, I don't remember there being a more influential driver for at least the last ten years. This is because Norris, as you have seen, knows how to connect with his fans in a better way than any other driver in the sport. Gone are the days of Formula 1 drivers being media-trained robots and only showing their faces in official interviews or adverts for the team, and I welcome this new generation of drivers that interact with fans in a much more personal way than we have ever seen before.
Talking of the official interviews, Norris also has a different approach to those and is quite similar to Daniel Ricciardo in this regard. He will often joke with the presenters when asked a question, and even caused a stir in Austria when he received a call from the Crown Prince of Bahrain during a live interview with Sky F1. He will laugh with the other drivers in press conferences and around the paddock is not afraid to play a few pranks on his peers. I, like many, am excited to see what will happen when he joins forces with Ricciardo next season. I am sure there will be many more jokes made at Norris' expense, and it will only improve the happy environment that has been created at McLaren since the Brit's arrival.
I will leave you with a great quote from an article I found on F1i.com, so do go and give the article a read if you have the time: "Norris brings something genuinely new to the grid, a lively and infectious sense of tongue-in-cheek fun crossed with a wide-eyed wonder and authentic amazement at having achieved his life's ambition of being an honest-to-God Grand Prix driver at such an early age."
What do you think?
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