Lando Norris believes he will face the hardest challenge of his career in the new Formula One season. The Briton, entering his third year in F1, said he would have no excuses not to perform at his best as he looked to step up and assume the role of team leader alongside his new but more experienced teammate, Daniel Ricciardo.
Last season McLaren finished an impressive third in the constructors’ championship with Norris scoring a career-best third at the Austrian GP. Last year he finished in ninth, three places below his teammate, Carlos Sainz, who has been recruited by Ferrari.
“In many ways it is going to be the hardest season for different reasons,” he said. “One of them being that I am the guy with the experience at McLaren and I need to take lead the team in the right direction. I have more responsibility now. There is more on me to lead the team with my knowledge of how they work.”
Ricciardo, a seven-time race winner after stints with Red Bull and Renault, confirmed he has signed a three-year contract with McLaren and that he was confident the team could put him in a position to at least fight for wins. But McLaren have faced the grid’s biggest challenge over the close season. They have switched to Mercedes engines and with the regulations unchanged they are the only team who have had to build an entirely new car around their new power unit. They enjoyed great success with Mercedes engines in the 90s and 2000s but while they remains the best on the grid they are unlikely to hide deficiencies in the car.
Given the tools however Norris is determined to succeed. “I know what I am capable of doing but it is about achieving that every single weekend and understanding how to be in that zone to do it,” he said.
Red Bull also confirmed they would be building their own engines – based on their current Honda power units after the Japanese manufacturer pulls out of F1 at the end of 2021. The team principal, Christian Horner, is confident it gives them the chance to challenge for the title, but also conceded that Mercedes could poach their lead driver Max Verstappen to replace Lewis Hamilton.
“I am sure that should Lewis decide to stop then Max will naturally be the driver at the top of Mercedes’ list,” Horner said. Hamilton has signed a contract or this year with Mercedes and the 36-year-old’s future is still undecided. Horner said Verstappen’s contract included performance-related clauses but that his team would meet the expectations of the 23-year -old Dutchman.
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“He believes in the project, in what we are doing, and sees the investment that Red Bull is making,” he said. “I am confident that we won’t need to refer to any contractual clauses. It will be down to us to deliver a competitive car.”
The former world champion Fernando Alonso has been discharged from hospital after he suffered a fractured jaw in a road cycling accident in Switzerland and is expected to be fit for his return to F1 with Alpine at the Bahrain Grand Prix next month.