Ricciardo's McLaren plight has masked Norris's incredible performances – MPH

Mark Hughes

Daniel Ricciardo's McLaren struggles and exit may have been grabbing the headlines, but more credit should be given to Lando Norris's incredible performances

2022-F1-McLaren drivers-Lando-Norris-and-Daniel-Ricciardo-at-the-Hungarian-GP

Whilst Ricciardo has struggled, Norris has excelled in recent seasons for McLaren


Amid the discussion of Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren contract termination, there’s been one subject largely overlooked: Lando Norris’s epic performances over the last two seasons.

Sitting in several post-qualifying McLaren sessions this year, it’s invariably been slightly uncomfortable asking each of the drivers about how the session has gone. A) Because it’s usually gone badly for Ricciardo again and here he is obliged to talk about it when it’s probably the last thing in the world he wants to be doing and b) because inevitably the focus is all on what’s gone wrong again for Daniel and very little about just what a stupendous job Lando has done – again. He has never been anything less than polite and professional but it hasn’t been difficult to read the underlying irritation with the general direction of the questions.

Post-qualifying Silverstone was probably the closest he came to expressing that. After the umpteenth Ricciardo question and answer about his problems, about what the car wasn’t doing etc, Norris – eight places ahead on the grid – finally was asked a question and responded with: “We’ve split the two Mercs and we’re less than a tenth away from the faster of them. I think we’ve done ok.” It put a very sharp perspective on things and surely wasn’t meant to be cruel to his team-mate, but the tone was definitely ‘enough’. Norris has been operating at an incredible level, this season in particular in a car that’s nowhere near as good as last year’s, but getting very little recognition for it, simply because of the extent of his team-mate’s problems. If it’s made him a little chippy at times, who can blame him? Asked on TV about what the secret was to his fourth-fastest time in Hungary, he answered – with a grin on his face, but a point to make – “You’re looking at him.”

His peaks have always been exceptional. But in the last two years, this year especially, he has strung consistently brilliant performances from a very reluctant car. In his fourth season of F1 he’s worthy of comparison to anyone, pretty much every time he gets in the car. That of course has simply exacerbated Ricciardo’s problems, made them much more visible than they’d otherwise be.

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Yesterday at Spa, Norris was asked if he had any sympathy for his team-mate’s predicament – and, as usual, he was clear-eyed and up-front in his response: “It’s not my job to focus on someone else, and I’m not a driver coach — I’m not here to help and do those kind of things. I’m here to perform at my absolute best and that’s about it. So it’s difficult when people start to have an expectation that it’s my job to also do these other things — helping and describing this and doing that — when that’s not really the case.

“It’s also the case that if I don’t perform well for a few years then it can also be the end of my career, the end of me driving in Formula 1, so I’ve got to focus on myself for the majority of it. Every driver has to adapt to the scenarios that they’re in and that’s what I feel like I’ve had to do.

“It’s not a car that I’ve just been able to jump in and feel like I can just flow with and perform exactly like I want. At the beginning of the year Daniel was performing better than I was — in the pre-season tests and stuff — and it looked like he could just go out naturally and drive the car how he wanted to. I had to learn a new way of driving compared to how I’d been used to driving the car for the last few years.

“So I feel like I’ve had to do a job of adapting and so has he, but I don’t feel like for any driver you would have to have sympathy for them because they have not been able to do as good of a job.”

For all the sim racing/social media generation mateyness, the steely, ruthless core of racer resides in pretty much all of these guys. Imagine asking Niki Lauda if he had sympathy for his 1977 Ferrari team-mate Carlos Reutemann whenever the latter was struggling against him. Or Kimi Räikkönen for David Coulthard in 2004.

But while for those guys it was simply recognised they were doing a better job than their team-mate that year, such was Ricciardo’s big reputation when he arrived at McLaren that inevitably the questions have been centred around why he wasn’t performing rather than about the extent to which Norris was. A couple of seasons of that and it would take a saint not to get a little shirty sometimes.