This weekend, Lando Norris will reach the celebrated century mark for Formula 1 race starts at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
It feels like only yesterday that he made his debut in the sport – but in the four and a bit years since, he’s become one of the most universally recognisable and popular figures on the grid and is also seen as one of its most talented drivers.
100 grands prix, all for McLaren, is a fine achievement in itself, whilst he has also recorded eleven podiums to date.
Of course, a win has eluded him so far, but then he’s not really been in possession of a car capable of challenging for victories – although he’ll be hoping that that is something that will soon change given the immense progress McLaren have made over the course of 2023.
Ahead of reaching his tonne, Motorsport Week spoke exclusively to the British ace – as he closes in on joining Lewis Hamilton, Alain Prost, Mika Hakkinen, and David Coulthard as the only drivers to have hit 100 starts for the Woking-based team – to discuss that milestone, and the highs and lows of his career so far.
“I think the hard thing for me in general with stats is there are certain ones I maybe like more than others,” Norris says when the A-list motorsport company he is about to join is put to him.
“If it’s got anything to do with wins and stuff like that I respect it when that time comes. I respect it in general, but it’s no target of mine.
“I’ve done five years already not being able to win a race because I’ve just not had the car to do so. Comparing to other people, you know, they’re in different situations – Lewis came into McLaren when they were winning races. So if anyone asks me, ‘are you trying to do what Lewis did?’ I’d go ‘no,’ because you can’t – it’s just not the same.
“I’m just trying to do my own stuff and maximise what I can do myself. When that time comes of ‘you’re now matching these guys’ or ‘you’ve got 30 wins,’ then I think that’s when I see it as a huge achievement to be alongside these people because I respect everyone that I race with, race against, and who has raced.
“Of course, I do think some people are better than others and things like that and maybe I respect other drivers more than some, but to go alongside names who have achieved race wins in the first place, because that’s never an easy thing to do, is great.
“I think if you asked 90% of people in Formula One, do you know Prost? They’ll say yeah, do you know Hakkinen? They’ll say yeah, maybe Coulthard not so much!” he laughs. “No I’m great friends with David! I think that’s a great achievement for everyone. It proves that they were in F1 a long time and they respected McLaren.
“So yeah, to have your name alongside any person that’s achieved things in Formula One I think is a great thing. It’s never something I go out to achieve but I respect it once I’ve achieved it.”
Of course, the wins and the championships are the stats he will want to see begin to swell in the coming years, with the Briton having showcased all the class and guile you need to achieve that with the multiple podiums he has accrued to date.
It makes sense, then, when we ask him to reflect on the high moments from the 99 grands prix he’s competed in so far.
However, it’s in discussing the lows that Norris provides a little more insight into the challenges a driver at the top level faces, in the typically candid style we’ve come to expect from him.
“The highs are the obvious ones. I think there’s been various races which have been extremely good, but just aren’t a P1, P2, or P3,” he contends.
“I see the high as a podium. I see more and more of that than just a good race, which is a P5, I don’t see that as a high necessarily. The highs are the moments you remember the most and that is therefore the podiums and the races like that.
“The lows – there’s definitely been less of them maybe in the last couple of years – maybe like the beginning of each season has just been a low because it’s been like you just have no idea how the season is going to play out and you never really had the most positive feelings that it’s going to get a lot better.
“Even the beginning of this year it wasn’t like, ‘yeah, we’re gonna be fighting top 10’ even. We knew we were gonna have some [upgrades] coming but even in previous years, we’re like, ‘yeah, we’ve got some upgrades coming,’ you put them on, and you go a bit quicker but you don’t gain four positions all of a sudden.
“So I would say, even at the beginning of this year, I wouldn’t say we were expecting to suddenly fight for easy Q3s and top fives and all of that stuff. And it’s a hard thing to imagine at the beginning of every season, when every season you almost think ‘okay, next year is going to be the year we can start off in a better way.’
“So I think every season has just started off on the downside and I think that’s the worst way you can start any season for everyone in terms of motivation and just spirit. It’s hard to go to Bahrain and go ‘yep, well, this is what we got for now.'”
Lows on the track are one thing, but Norris has been open about mental health and some of the challenges he has faced away from the circuit after being thrust into the sport at such a young age.
Indeed, he was again here: “I would say more personally my first few years of Formula One [were tough.] My first year was just because I was smaller, I understood less, and mentally I wasn’t as strong. I was affected by social media and stuff a lot more. Mentally I struggled a lot and was very tough on myself, so I would say the first year was the hardest by a long way, where I was just faced with certain obstacles and driving styles that I wasn’t natural to which I needed to be.
“And just when you’re on that big stage and you can’t do it within a couple of sessions, then I would beat myself up a lot about it for weeks and when I was at home and on my own and just thinking about that it killed me inside quite a bit.
“So personally it was more the first couple years and then almost the beginning of most seasons. Those were the lows but there hasn’t been as many lately!”
Any 19-year-old, as Norris was at the time when he joined F1, would find it tough going suddenly being the centre of so much in this digital age, in a world-famous sport, where everyone and anyone can express an opinion.
However, Norris reveals that over his time in F1 dealing with that side of the top flight has translated into one of his biggest strengths.
“I’d say [when] I started I respected everyone’s opinion too much and you just can’t work around life respecting everyone’s opinion,” he acknowledged. “It’s as simple as that.
“It’s not that you don’t care but it’s just you have to learn to really just believe and trust the ones around you, the ones who know what’s going on.
“They’re the ones you should trust and respect the most. And I always have, it’s just I, not believed, but I listened too much to people who had no idea. It’s just reading articles or headlines, stuff like that, where people make things up and that affects me a lot.
“So just dealing with those things and just general comments on social media. Even now, I still get a lot of stick from people, or [about] things that I say but I’m just saying things that I believe in. More often than not I say a fact and people hate that, if it doesn’t agree with their view they hate it, and then I get stick for that.
“But I’ve just learned that you can’t please everyone. Not everyone can please you, you have your things you like and you don’t like and your own opinions. And you just learn to deal with stuff your own way, the best way.
“I feel like I’ve figured out my own way of dealing with things and overcoming things. The main thing is just respecting and listening to the people who are around me and there for me. I still read all the rest of it but I just have a lot less interest and respect those things less.”
Clearly, on this route to 100 races in F1, Norris has developed, learned, and experienced a lot both at the wheel and outside of the cockpit.
What about the future, though? Norris was speaking to us over the weekend of the Qatar Grand Prix – one that saw Max Verstappen win a third straight world title.
Undoubtedly, the Dutchman is the driver to beat at the moment, but many see Norris as a potential contender for the crown if he is in the right car, which McLaren is working hard to give him.
Clearly, there is a healthy respect between the pair of them, and a similar outlook on life as well. Verstappen, who has now achieved so much in the sport in terms of race wins and titles, has said on more than one occasion that there is more to life than F1, hinting at an exit after his current contract ends with Red Bull at the conclusion of 2028.
We asked Norris for his own view on things, then, now he’s reaching the 100-race milestone – and he can understand what Verstappen is saying, though the focus and the goal for him is still very much centred on F1 – even if he has many interests outside of the sport.
“My goals are still the same – to win races, to win championships,” he outlined. “Once that time comes then I’ll have to re-evaluate but until that time comes that’s my only goal.
“Some things with me and Max I would say are completely different but in some things, I would say we’re quite similar just from what we enjoy doing.
“I mean he hates playing golf but we play padel together. We love racing, we love sim racing so there’s some other similarities. He enjoys other car racing and I really do too. I loved doing the Daytona 24 Hour before and I love driving other cars, not just Formula One. I’m a car lover, not just a Formula One lover.
“So if there were opportunities for me to do other racing, I would 100% love to do it. I’d love to do Le Mans, I’d love to do some of these bigger races.
“Even for me, I do see a life outside of Formula One. And I do want to achieve things in my life that are outside of Formula One but some of them will be probably be during my time in Formula One, like with my Esports organisation.
“I do try and keep myself occupied and have that life because I would hate that when things stop in F1 it’s like your life’s over because that’s all you’ve done your whole life. I want other things to continue to keep me occupied and other things to focus on.
“But my priority is Formula One – everything else revolves around achieving that one goal in Formula One. But it doesn’t mean you can’t do other things. You know, everyone thinks that if you’re a Formula One driver, you can’t do anything else because that’s just because that’s what someone said and somehow people want to believe it.
“Like Lewis, he’s proving that you can do other things at once. When people say, ‘oh, you get distracted,’ it’s just not true! People can do multiple things. Just like in every way of life, you can do different things at a time. And it’s not like he’s a sole guy in everything he does, he has people that look after different things and I have my team who run it for me and when they need me to do certain things I’ll do it. But everything revolves around Formula One.
“So I do like to do other things. I have other interests. I have a life and I can do whatever I want in a way. But my goal is Formula One, my priority is Formula One and it’s always going to be like that until I feel like I can’t achieve what I want to achieve.”
It’s been quite a ride for Norris so far in his F1 career, then, but you do get the sense he is only just getting started.
From this chat, It’s quite clear he’s learned a lot about himself, both as a driver and a person since his debut back in 2019, and before we wrapped up our chat with him there was just enough time to ask about some of the best things he does for a living.
In his answer, it became quite clear how aware he was of what he had achieved in his life so far and how different things could be, but also what he had sacrificed to get to this point.
“I think there isn’t just one thing, honestly, that’s why it’s such a cool job,” he expressed.
“The people you get to meet along the way, whether it’s different sports or business people, and the opportunities that come off the back of that.
“Also, I’d say getting a very easy life – it is an easy life, compared to a lot of other jobs – I don’t have a desk job 9-5.
“I have a lot of days off! We have more days off than probably most other people doing every other job.
“So I would say we do have one of the best jobs in the world. Just that ease of life, being what 23 and, I wouldn’t saying having succeeded at what I want to yet, but having earned already enough money to have my own place, buy some cars.
“Like I’m 23 and I get to do those things already, because of success. You know if I was a bad driver, I wouldn’t do any of this. If I hadn’t worked hard, I wouldn’t have got any of this.
“So by working hard, by putting the effort in, to make myself a better driver, because that’s what I’m dedicated to doing, and by making the sacrifices when you’re a kid at school and with friends at school and your life at school and all those things, I’ve been able to achieve this success.
“It is such a big world. It seems so small initially, but then it becomes such a big world. And just all of those things that come along with it are amazing.”
Tellingly, for someone who’s spoken so openly about his mental health, Norris is very self-aware of the privileged position he is in when he talks about jobs and having his own place, though it is of course all earned and, as he mentions, some serious sacrifices have had to have been made along the way.
He’s got himself into a very strong place on and off track in this first near-100 races, then, and the next century could well see all of that groundwork yield some serious results.