Over the past five years, McLaren’s Formula 1 driver Lando Norris has proven to himself and the motorsport world that he’s got what it takes to survive in the sport, managing to finish seventh overall last season despite some of the struggles his team and former teammate Daniel Ricciardo faced throughout the year.
2023 marks a new beginning for all 20 drivers on the grid, and with Norris joined by new teammate and rookie Oscar Piastri, he steps up to the plate and takes on a new role as the more experienced driver. The season is set to open this weekend in Bahrain with every driver and team back to zero points, and Norris is looking ahead with a fresh perspective and the same drive to win.
Hypebeast had the chance to sit down and speak with him about what it’s like to be teamed up with a rookie, how he prepares for a new season, finding passions outside of the sport and more.
The world of motorsport racing is still quite foreign to some. How does one get into something like that?
For most people, everything starts with go-karting. That's the lowest level of racing that you can do, and I started when I was six years old. It was the first time I managed to drive a go-kart – it’s the safest, slowest, and one of the best things for learning. That's where everything starts, I think pretty much everybody in Formula 1 now has gone through karting and started probably at the age of six, seven or eight years old. Karting is the launchpad for everyone who gets into racing, especially if you enter as a kid. From there on, it's just a very long journey, it takes years of going up the ladder in different categories, quicker cars and so on, all the way to F1. And it took me about 12 years to get in and race for the first time, so it's taken a lot of hard work, dedication, sacrifices, testing and practice to get to where I am today.
As you enter your fifth season of F1, have there been any changes in how you prepare for a new season as you gain more experience in the sport?
Yes, I think Formula 1 is a world where it's never the same, nothing is ever really repeated, there's always a development, there's always an improvement. That's on every part of the car that I drive and on every individual who works as part of McLaren. Because it's a competition, and you want to work on every single area possible that can bring performance and can bring a more competitive team or car. So every year, I'm finding better and more efficient ways to develop, to learn to improve on my past mistakes or past seasons. Your way of learning changes. I don't have the biggest attention span, I can't sit in a classroom for several hours and I need to have short, snappy things. That's how I best take on information. You learn how each and every person works at their best and I have a very good team around me who are suited to help me extract everything that I can out of myself and vice versa. But this is all done with experience and comes with the years of being in the sport.
If you could give Rookie Lando a piece of advice, what would it be?
If I could give him advice it would probably be to believe in myself a little bit more, which is something I struggled with a lot back when I started. I think it would also be if you think you're working hard, work harder.
You’ve got a new teammate this season: Oscar Piastri, who’s in his first year of F1. How has that adjustment been?
It's still in the early days, we've only been at the factory a few days together. I guess the way we work together really starts in a few weeks when we go testing and we get racing. There hasn't been a lot of interaction or time that we’ve spent together just yet, other than tests last year and a few days that we've had in the factory. But, so far so good, Oscar is a lovely guy. He seems like an experienced guy, although it's still his first season in Formula 1, he's been in this world for a while. But he's the same as every other driver, he's here to prove himself, to beat everyone else on the grid, including me. We're also there to help each other, I'll be there to help him considering it’s his first year, and that's a little bit of a role as a more experienced driver. But it's not like I have to go out of my way to do many different things, I still have to focus on my job and do what I have to do. You're just working with a guy who works a little bit differently and speaks and thinks in different ways. So yeah, it takes a little bit of time to get used to and to adapt to working with someone different. But at the end of the day, it's the same objective for everyone.
Now that the tables have turned a little bit, are there differences in being the more experienced driver? Do you find that you are stepping up in ways that you maybe weren't expecting or used to?
Yes, I definitely would say so. I mean, I wouldn't say there's massive differences, or there's things that I'm doing extremely differently. But I think with being the more experienced guy just naturally comes a slightly different role – just a bit more responsibility I guess. I'm the one who knows the previous cars the best. For the last few years, I'm also the one who knows more about the team, and how they've done over the last few years, what our strengths and weaknesses are. But also, Oscar is able to bring something different, you know, he's been with a different team and that's something that I've never been with. So everyone's always got different things to add to bring to the table. I guess my part is that I'm the guy who has been in Formula 1 a bit longer and I'm the guy who has been with McLaren longer. I think that's the bigger difference. But it's no big advantage or disadvantage, it's just a different amount of experience and over the years, you get used to it.
You recently started a photography Instagram account. How important is it to have other hobbies and interests when you race at such a competitive level?
It depends. It's not something that anyone needs to do. It's all personal, but for me, as a driver, I work best whenever I have a little bit of time off from driving. When we have a weekend off or a couple of days, whatever it is, I like to distract myself and take my mind away from racing. As much as it's good to always think about racing, it's also good to relax and separate yourself a little bit so you can come back fresh and more prepared. One of the hobbies I enjoy doing is the photography stuff, which I have also done throughout race weekends. But it's as simple as taking a picture, it takes one second, it doesn't take too much attention, at least from my side. For me, I just do it for memories, stuff that I can look back on. I guess golf is more of a hobby for me, something that I like to go and do outside of races. It's calming and also extremely frustrating at the same time. But I like to challenge myself and give myself different things to attempt.
Growing up with the sport, you’ve raced alongside fellow drivers and friends like Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon and George Russell for years. Is it ever difficult to switch from “friend” mode to that competitive mindset?
Speaking for myself, I would say no. I think I'm someone who is able to adapt very quickly. I can have a huge amount of respect for every single driver that I’m racing against, and only see them as competitors. When you're racing and when you have the helmet on, that's the only way you view them. But I'm also a guy that when I take my helmet off, I can continue that amount of respect, and be friends with them. Of course, there might be conflicts at times, but I feel like I'm very good at separating these things. The main one is probably with Carlos over the first few years of Formula 1; we enjoy doing a lot of similar things, we play golf together and things like that, but we also wanted to beat each other so much, which was a good thing. It made us push each other more and ourselves more. We had enough respect for each other that when we're outside the car, we could get along. But when you’re in the race car, you forget about the outside world and just focus on your objective.
What are you most looking forward to in the new season?
It's the beginning of the year so there's still a lot of unknowns, and a lot of question marks about everything. I just look forward to getting things going. There’s also some different tracks like Vegas this year, which I think every single person in the paddock is looking forward to. The different places we're going to and the new challenges we have coming our way, that’s always exciting.
Follow all the action from this weekend’s Bahrain GP and get a look behind the scenes by downloading the McLaren app. Watch the Bahrain GP live on F1TV from 3pm GMT on Sunday, March 5.