Racing Lines: why Norris could steal Hamilton's thunder at this weekend's British GP
Home fans will be cheering Lewis Hamilton onto a sixth win at Silverstone, but the standout stars are more towards the middle of the pack
Silverstone is Lewis Hamilton country. The home hero will bid for a record sixth British Grand Prix win this weekend, buoyed by a partisan crowd just like Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill before him.
But beyond the Lewis lovein, the fans know there’s another who is increasingly deserving of adulation. Lando Norris arrives at his first British GP on a rising wave. The McLaren rookie, at just 19, has scored points in four of his nine grands prix so far, and even appears to be getting the upper hand on respected team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr.
McLaren, while improving, is nowhere near the team it was in 2007, but still there’s a faint echo of Hamilton’s debut season when he shook up another Spaniard, Fernando Alonso.
It’s too early and unfair to label Norris ‘the new Hamilton’ – especially when the original is still at large. But the signs are this kid is special. Last time out in Austria, he found himself wheel-to-wheel with the five-time champ – and looked entirely in his element.
Norris describes himself as “pretty satisfied” with his season so far. “I’ve started the last two grands prix from fifth on the grid, which has been cool,” he tells Autocar. “It was fun to race wheel-to-wheel with Lewis, and Max [Verstappen] in the opening laps in France. We obviously want to be racing these guys consistently at the front, but that’s the future. For the present we’re fighting in the midfield pack, which is incredibly tight. The slightest mistake in quali – a small lock-up, for example – is the difference between reaching Q3 or being near the bottom of Q2. That’s how close it is.”
Under new team principal Andreas Seidl, the man who led Porsche to a hat-trick of Le Mans wins, McLaren has an edge in 2019 that for too long has been missing. It’s officially the fourth-best team in F1 right now, still well short of the Mercedes-Red Bull-Ferrari axis – but that’s some progress.
Such regeneration makes one wonder whether Alonso’s absence has a part to play. Had his divisive presence become part of the problem? Alternatively, we might also ponder what he might be doing with the Renault-powered MCL34 right now, had he not run out of patience and quit. A penny for his thoughts as F1 heads to Silverstone.
Source: Autocar Online