The last time a McLaren driver took pole position prior to the 2021 Russian Grand Prix, it was November of 2012. The venue was Interlagos, home to the Brazilian Grand Prix. The driver was Lewis Hamilton. Lando Norris, it ought to be noted, at that stage was barely nine years old.
It’s an age where you could be sure about getting into Formula 1 as a career choice given how some young and steely minds decide very early on about what to do later in life.
Yet, nine is an age where you are still chewing gum, being taken care of, avoiding milk, running after milkshakes, being coaxed by mum to eat, being scolded by dad for being a tad bit naughtier than other kids. And moreover, the closest you are to any modicum of mortal danger is when you spot your teacher or a parent chasing you mad to spank you hard for some prank or silliness nothing of which is as dangerous as the rigours F1 drivers willingly expose themselves to on a track.
Something that the great Niki Lauda noted as being no more than a ‘sixty percent chance of returning back safe each time one takes to the wheel of a Formula 1 car.’
So when Lewis Hamilton took pole at Brazil in 2012, young Lando Norris, in all certainty, was doing kid things like most others his age. It’s funny then to think how life works, in Lewis Hamilton speak given how the two were involved in a close tussle nearly a decade after a McLaren driver last bagged pole for the famous English racing marquee.
The only thing that changed from 2012 Brazil to 2021 Russia was- and, of course, not Hamilton or Lando Norris- but time.
And on Sunday, finding himself with the enormous task of fending off Lewis Hamilton, such a fast charger on any track, was that nine year old kid who was awfully close to defeating a former McLaren driver in what could’ve been a special race win.
Special not only because Lando Norris had worked so hard to earn his maiden podium aged just twenty one, but also because at Russia, not many would’ve given McLaren much of a chance knowing Mercedes’ red hot form and past record based on redoubtable consistency.
Yet, the Briton tried and gave it everything until the end to chase a win the chances of which became increasingly difficult in the final four laps.
With non-stop rains entering the circuit in the final stages of the widely-watched and massively-debated Russian GP, it became increasingly challenging for young Lando Norris to hold his track position.
Deciding to stay out and not opting to box for inters, which was the team’s call and would most certainly have helped him rule at Sochi, Lando paid the ultimate price for inexperience one notes.
But that being said, his P7, a finish ahead of drivers like Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Esteban Ocon, George Russell, to name just four of the insanely talented names on the grid is no mean achievement.
Not that holding on to the positive, which a points finish is would do an awful lot to assuage the lost opportunity- isn’t it?
Yet, it makes little sense to immerse oneself in despair. Though, at the same time, it’s easier said than done.
Lando Norris, we all know, had worked so hard on Saturday to put the nose of his McLaren out in front, ahead of vastly superior machines. Think both Mercedes’. Don’t forget the two Red Bulls.
But what must also be admitted, albeit with the same politeness and gentleness as Norris himself rushing to congratulate Hamilton in the race’s aftermath is that tomorrow belongs to those who persist today.
And while the sport is fortunate to have talents like Russell, Leclerc, Gasly, Norris and Verstappen, an incredible quintuplet that’s going to write the new era of Formula 1, it’s also important to note just how incredible they all are in the present.
Last Lap Lando and more!
Especially a certain Lando Norris.
It was a little over a year ago when the legend of ‘Last Lap Lando,’ was born, circa Austrian GP at Spielberg, the curtain-raiser of a dramatic and exciting 2020 F1 season.
It took Norris little effort but majestic will to beat the Racing Point of Sergio Perez and that too in the final lap at Red Bull’s home race. Finishing third on the grid having started fourth, which is when his then-teammate Sainz began from eighth, Norris not only earned his then-career best result but his maiden podium for McLaren.
2020 was in many ways the year that would signal the intent and preparation of McLaren to the days of the yore and 2021’s results, especially those of Norris have only furthered the iconic team’s flight.
Ricciardo’s sensational win at Monza notwithstanding, a sight that was both satisfying and hugely emotional for McLaren and Honeybadger fans, it’s Lando Norris’ consistency in 2021 that has endeared him to tens of thousands around the world.
Remember he’s all of 21, an age where many actually debut, an age where the smiling racer has already bagged five career podiums. In a year where much of the headlines have belonged- and rightly so- to the great Hamilton versus Verstappen duel, it’s drivers like Lando Norris who’ve turned a corner in their career and broadened discussion about a contest ever willing to become one-sided.
Tomorrow belongs to those who try today. And it belongs to Lando Norris.
Remember the sensational Emilia Romagna Grand Prix drive that culminated into a P2? Norris, who was admittedly quicker than Ricciardo and even asked the team over radio if he could swap places, held back and maintained second on the grid as the Honeybadger soaked himself in the glory of a marvellous win, having endured a ridiculously tough season all throughout.
In what was a thrilling 1-2 for McLaren, all the mega headlines belonged to Daniel and little was perhaps reserved for the boy who played the role of the ultimate team man, no grudges, or temperamental outbursts over radio, forget lewd remarks.
That’s not Lando Norris. It’ll never be. Each day is a chance anew. To shine. To make the world of F1 even more beautiful with your fine talent.
So don’t lose heart young man. You are excelling in the present. Tomorrow belongs to you.