Lando Norris Still Has to Win One

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Lando Norris Still Has to Win OneDan Istitene - Formula 1 - Getty Images

Lando Norris is the lead driver at McLaren. It was effectively true at this point last year, when Norris secured four podiums and finished well ahead of veteran teammate Daniel Ricciardo. After another season of handily beating his teammate, Ricciardo is gone and rookie Oscar Piastri steps into the second papaya-colored McLaren. Norris, in his fifth season of F1 competition at just 23, is suddenly not just the clear lead driver at McLaren but the veteran on the team. That brings serious expectations.

This is the eleventh installment of our driver-by-driver preview of the 2023 Formula 1 season. This weekend, we will be covering McLaren. You can find the rest of our previews here.

Norris has risen to the expectation the past two years, but he has a notable hole in his resume: he still has not actually won a Formula 1 race. He had a great chance at Sochi in 2021, a race that slipped away from underneath him while strategy calls were made in a late storm. At Monza that same year, he did not press Ricciardo and accepted a second in the 1-2. McLaren has not given him many winning cars, but a lead driver at a team this prestigious with years of experience and no wins is almost unheard of. His goal for 2023 is the most clear on the grid.

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HOW HE GOT HERE

Norris spent his first few years in cars collecting minor championships before turning full time to the now-defunct European Formula 3 championship in 2017. He won that in dominant fashion as a rookie, then skipped a step to jump into Formula 2. His second place as a rookie in that championship, just behind George Russell, is equally impressive.

That led him to an early promotion to McLaren's F1 program in 2019. It was quickly clear that McLaren viewed him differently than previous prospects Stoffel Vandoorne and Kevin Magnussen. He was given an opportunity to grow over four seasons, two behind Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. and two with Daniel Ricciardo. He broke out in those latter seasons, trouncing a veteran teammate in the standings twice.

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HOW 2022 WENT

Norris had an excellent 2022, even if McLaren did not. He not only secured the team's only podium of the season, he scored points in all but five races. That was enough for seventh in the standings, just one spot behind Lewis Hamilton.

Given McLaren's struggles, the best way to understand how effective Norris was in 2022 is a direct comparison to his teammate. He scored 92 points in 2022; Daniel Ricciardo scored just 37. Norris will now be paired with Oscar Piastri, a prospect poached from Alpine in a contentious saga that stretched over months. Ricciardo is now a reserve driver for his former team, Red Bull Racing.

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GOALS FOR 2023

The ever-ambitious McLaren has put Norris in a position to eventually fight for championships, but the team needs to hold up their end of the bargain. 2021 looked like the light at the end of a rough tunnel for the team that has so often seemed lost since Lewis Hamilton left, but 2022 was a regression back to the mid-pack. If McLaren improves, it expects that Norris will lead the charge for them. Their own struggles mean he still has not actually won a race.

That needs to come first. Hopefully, early in the 2023 season. If Norris can grab a quick early win, like Charles Leclerc did last year, he would immediately show himself as ready to fight for a championship. McLaren would also have to follow it up with continued development to stay near the front, the place where Ferrari faltered last year, but it all starts with winning early.

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A SUCCESSFUL SEASON LOOKS LIKE...

After two straight seasons leading the McLaren team on a weekly basis, Norris has proven everything he can internally. Now, it's time for the external fight to count. Expecting Norris to fight for a championship right now is unrealistic only because McLaren has struggled to build a contending car for so long. If the team puts out a truly effective car, that immediately becomes the season's goal. If not, the goals are more simple: outperform Piastri, score podiums where possible, lead McLaren to a high finish in the constructor's standings, and, if everything lines up perfectly, grab that first career win.

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