Forget the missing win, Lando Norris has already proven himself one of F1’s best

Sam Cooper
Lando Norris

Lando Norris has finished second on seven occasions.

Pre-race, the China predictions for McLaren were rather gloomy.

Andrea Stella described the Shanghai circuit with its low-speed corners and long straight as “the track that worries me the most from a competitiveness point of view” and many, myself included, thought Mercedes would usurp McLaren as the third quickest car on the grid.

And yet, the reverse has happened. McLaren came away with 27 points this weekend to Mercedes’ 18 and that tally could have been even more had Oscar Piastri not picked up damage.

But their star driver this weekend, as he has been all of this season, was Lando Norris.

The 24-year-old’s first moment of excellence came on Friday when the rest of the grid, including three World Champions, were struggling for grip during a wet quali, while Norris put in the biggest gap from pole to P2 in 10 years.

Norris may have made an error at the start of the Sprint to surrender his pole but he returned with another strong performance on Saturday afternoon in qualifying for the main race.

It was in that main race that Norris showed his class. He battled well to be up within the podium spots when the VSC eventually came out after Valtteri Bottas’ incident but even the unfortunate timing of that, Norris had just passed the pit when the call was made, did not stop him.

The upgrade to a full Safety Car saw Norris move to the front and while keeping Max Verstappen behind was always going to be a near-impossible task, the speed of Red Bull this weekend would have suggested that doing similar with Sergio Perez was also going to be tough.

And yet, Norris did it with aplomb. His P2 was his best result since Sao Paulo last year, the eighth time he has finished runner-up, and now there is a real debate to be had of is Norris the best driver ever to not win a race?

That lack of a win is often dangled over Norris when discussions of who is the best driver on the current grid are raised but a win should not be seen as the be-all and end-all. Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly have both won races and you would be tough-pressed to find someone who believes they are better than Norris.

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There is also a lot of luck involved and unfortunately for Norris, it has often not gone his way. Sochi 2021 remains a pivotal moment in the career story of Norris and is a clear demonstration of how these things can be decided by such small decisions. Had Norris pitted instead of staying out, the win would have surely been his and this discussion would have died years ago.

Norris is also not the first British driver to find it hard to pop his winner’s cherry. James Hunt, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill all had to wait a while before their first victory – all three would go on to win the World Championship.

Winning in F1 is a product of skill but also chance. Norris happens to be driving in an era of extreme dominance by one driver who is clearly one of the best to ever do it. Take away Max Verstappen and there would be plenty of other drivers alongside Norris with more tallies in their win column.

But to reduce a driver’s skill to their number of wins is to do them a disservice. Into his fifth season, Norris has proven himself a fine Formula 1 driver and while that first win looks a certainty to occur in the future, for now we should all appreciate just how good he has become.

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