Lando Norris and George Russell's mixed fortunes — Johnny Herbert

“It’s good to see a couple of British drivers coming through, and they’re class acts”

Johnny Herbert


The past month has been one of contrast for Britain’s up and coming Formula 1 stars Lando Norris and George Russell. While one has shone for McLaren, the other endured an accident at Imola with Valtteri Bottas, the man George might one day replace, that triggered a moment of conflict and a delicate political situation with Mercedes-AMG chief Toto Wolff.

The accident itself was rightly judged as a racing accident. If I put myself in George’s shoes, yes, he got the run towards Tamburello and felt he could do it on the outside, even if it’s always going to be difficult there. It’s not the braking and the first left that’s the problem, it’s what we saw with Max and Lewis on the first lap – the right-hander in the chicane, which closes off and disappears. Was it really on? When George pulled out to the right where there’s that slight kink, Valtteri very slightly looked like he would wander out to the racing line – and that’s what George saw, the gap closing. It’s almost like he shifted his hips and torso over in the monocoque thinking ‘it’s getting close’ and in that moment put wheels on the grass. But from the onboard camera you can see Valtteri did steer left. The racing line was never taken away from George, he just got squeezed. Hence, a racing incident.

Can you blame George for going for it? No. But the subsequent outburst showed his youth. I’ve got to know him over the past few years, and there is a feistiness to him. He’s very confident and has a lot of self-belief. But you have to be very careful how you deal with such a situation because the media will be straight on it, and it pulls in both teams. That reaction, when George went over to Valtteri’s car and slapped him lightly, then what was said afterwards, didn’t go down very well with Toto. Sometimes you have to bite your lip, then wander down to Mercedes later for a word in his ear. That’s when you do it, not in front of the world. It only harms your situation, especially as it was a genuine racing incident. Blame games are very dangerous things.

We all get that George is trying to make an impression, especially in those circumstances against that specific driver. But once the dust settled it didn’t turn out to be a positive one for George and was damaging for him. But he’ll learn from that and it’s not actually a bad thing for him to go through. Also it might not be all negative. That incident will only make people think when they are in a racing situation with him, so actually you can come out of something like that in a stronger position because people are wary of you. Like the Lewis and Max move earlier in the race, it’s all about intimidation. Martin Brundle used to mention sometimes that when you saw Ayrton Senna’s yellow helmet in your mirrors it was intimidating. I didn’t think that way, but Lewis and Max do have that in their armouries – and it can be a powerful thing to have.

“Russell could come out of his Imola crash in a stronger position”

In contrast, Lando’s month has been brilliant. I’ve been very impressed with him following his strong fourth place in Bahrain, the podium at Imola and fifth in Portugal. One thing is the consistency, but he’s also shown good race craft and don’t forget he’s up against Daniel Ricciardo in the other McLaren. I know Daniel has said ‘I’m still settling in’, but he’s the one with the wealth of experience. Spain was the first time Daniel has had a better race weekend so far and he was always bound to come back at Lando. But the young whipper- snapper is doing himself a lot of favours against someone like that. Equally, Carlos Sainz has done a bloody good job at Ferrari so far and as a former team-mate that’s only good for Lando too because they were nip and tuck at McLaren.

Lando’s confidence is growing and we can see that, not so much in his body language but out on track. It’s really nice to see.

It is good to see a couple of Brits coming through, and they both happen to be class acts. If you put either in the right equipment they could deal with it and they are interesting because they are such different characters, too. George is very professional and confident, as is Lando – but he’s more laid back and very funny. So they are a different cup of tea to each other, and yet on track their skills are very similar, even if they go about the job differently. They’ve both got great futures ahead.