Why Lando Norris is ruining Red Bull and Mercedes' plans

L​ando Norris has finished fourth, third and fifth in the first three races

5d ago

If there's one F1 driver you don't want to snooze on this year, it's Lando Norris.

The 21-year-old is having a superb start to the season, having finished fourth, third and fifth in the first three races.

In fact, Norris and McLaren's performance has been so strong, they now feel able to fight Red Bull and Mercedes.

But what many fans want to know is how this change has come about.

We're going to be taking a look at how Norris has risen through the ranks in F1 and why McLaren's new MCL35M car is such a dominant force on the grid.

T​he driver

Over the years, Norris has adapted his driving style to improve his race pace and handling of the car.

Norris entered the 2019 season with an elegant driving style, balancing sensibly at corner entry and braking very late.

But as Norris' confidence has grown, we've seen him take more risks.

He has progressed in his level of aggression both on defence and offence.

A perfect example of this was at Imola, where Norris made a bold double overtake on Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly as well as holding off Hamilton in the latter stages of the race, even when his soft tyres were aged.

Norris himself has said he's focussed heavily on race pace, an area he says "he wasn't very good at a couple of years ago".

Speaking about his improvements in 2020, Norris said: "It's something I've spent a lot of time on, digging into all the details, because there's a lot of things that happen in the race, that come together to make it a good race.

"It's not just singular things.

"So it's something I put a lot of focus on and time into and it's something throughout this year I've definitely been much stronger in, but there's still more areas for me to improve and continue to get better at."

However, Norris isn't the only one to notice his maturity on track.

McLaren Team Principal Andreas Seidl believe Norris has made the next step as a driver.

He described his race in Bahrain as 'very controlled', pushing when he had to push and controlling it when he was in a position to control.

Similarly, Norris' consistency has impressed McLaren, with them citing his ability to stay on targeted lap times and manage his tyres.

Putting all of this together has allowed Norris to secure a decent haul of points and race results.

After qualifying in 2019, Norris was starting on the grid in around 9th place (9.4) and finishing in 11th (11.4) on average.

But 2020 was a big jump as both Norris' qualifying and finishing placements improved.

For qualifying, he was either starting in eighth or ninth position (8.5) and finishing eighth (8.3).

Norris also secured his first podium in 2020, finishing third in Spielberg.

And this season, a new side has been unleashed in Norris as he scored fourth in Bahrain, third in Imola and fifth in Portimão.

T​he car

T​he MCL35M

T​he MCL35M

However, it's fair to say Norris wouldn't be having as much success if it wasn't for the car.

Seidl said McLaren has made good steps forwards compared to the top guys over the winter.

McLaren switched from Renault to Mercedes power this year, with Mercedes' unit proving to be the most reliable and effective over the past couple of seasons.

But it wasn't all plain sailing.

The FIA and Formula 1 froze the tech specification of all mechanical components on the cars.

Teams could only make upgrades using a two token system.

But McLaren had already signed terms with Mercedes to switch their power units in 2021.

And in order to transform the MCL35 into the MCL35M, the McLaren needed major surgery.

Technical Director James Key explained how "effectively everything behind the driver is what had to change."

Thus, the FIA deemed McLaren couldn't have any tokens as the change of the power unit would lead to large adjustments to various parts of the car.

However, aerodynamic and cooling developments were free and that's one area McLaren focussed heavily on.

One section of the car teams often focus on is their barge boards.

Barge boards are designed to turn the airflow around the car, redirecting the "dirty" air in the wake of the front wing, the front suspension links and the rotating front wheels.

However, McLaren made some changes to their barge board cluster, adding Venetian blind style slats to help with cooling.

But one of the main talking points was their rear diffuser.

The FIA also brought in rules around the device as part of a push to reduce downforce in the cars.

They capped the height of strakes, making them 50mm shorter.

Strakes are vertical elements within the diffuser that prove beneficial for delaying the stall of airflow.

However, it appears McLaren found a way around the new limitation on the length of strakes, as theirs looked visibly longer.

It's said they found a loophole by attaching the strakes to the centre of the floor, which has been extended.

With this advantage, more downforce is created for the car, allowing it to take corners at higher speeds and giving drivers more control.

T​he future

According to Norris, the changes to the car along with his and Daniel Ricciardo's skills mean McLaren are catching up to the top two teams.

He said: "We're close, not miles away from Mercedes and Red Bull comparing to last season.

"I think we've closed the gap quite a bit and hopefully at some tracks, we can close even more. It's good."

What do you think about McLaren's surge to the front of the grid - is it a surprise or something that's been inevitable after the past three years?

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Comments (1)

  • He may not be disrupting the front two as such, except for a couple laps behind him at Imola for Lewis, but being ahead of bottas is sure to he giving him a bit of a headache

      4 days ago