Norris is a future world champ: McLaren's Brown

McLaren's British test driver Lando Norris steering in the rain during the first practice session in Monza last week.
McLaren's British test driver Lando Norris steering in the rain during the first practice session in Monza last week.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Briton Lando Norris, 18, will follow in the footsteps of world champion Lewis Hamilton when he makes his Formula One race debut for McLaren next season, but the team remain wary of making too many comparisons.

McLaren principal Zak Brown is excited by his potential, but he also knows the under-performing McLaren are a very different team from the one Hamilton joined in 2007 when he was 22.

It is also fair to say that McLaren's track record with prospects in the years since the four-time winner - who has a 30-point lead at the top of the drivers' championship standings going into next week's Singapore Grand Prix - left for Mercedes has been, like the team's recent race performances, underwhelming.

"I think he is a future world champion," Brown told reporters following the announcement that Norris would partner Spaniard Carlos Sainz at McLaren next year.

But, when asked whether he had "the next Lewis Hamilton", the American turned evasive, refusing to hype up the teenager.

"We don't want to draw comparisons to other drivers, that's part of what might put too much pressure on him too quickly," Brown said.

"Lewis is a unique individual who may go down as the most successful F1 driver ever. Lewis walked into an outstanding race car. He (Norris) is arriving to a winning team with a losing car."

Mexican Sergio Perez, Dane Kevin Magnussen and Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne - whose place Norris will take - have all been burnt by McLaren, with the first two reviving their careers elsewhere.

McLaren recently brought in former Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran as their sporting director, hoping to use his experience to help improve matters on the track.

"I'm confident we've got the right people in place to get the most out of our two drivers," the 46-year-old said.

Brown added that Norris, who unlike Hamilton, comes from a wealthy background but has also blazed a winning trail through go-karts and junior series, would have been snapped up elsewhere if McLaren had not taken him.

"There were a lot of F1 teams that wanted him so he's certainly here on merit," he said of the Formula Two contender, who is second in the standings behind compatriot George Russell with two races left.

Rookie Charles Leclerc, however, has not earned the same backing from the public as Norris, with more than 20,000 Kimi Raikkonen fans signing an online petition urging Ferrari to keep the Finn for another year instead of turning to the 20-year-old Monegasque.

The petition, on change.org, argued that replacing the 38-year-old was "not justifiable" and that the team needed him to keep the balance alongside four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2018, with the headline 'Norris is a future world champ: McLaren's Brown'. Print Edition | Subscribe