Lando Norris is hopeful that he won’t suffer any “long-term effects” after opening up about his debilitating struggles with back pain.
F1 introduced new regulations last year with the aim of enhancing the racing spectacle, but the move to ground effect cars brought the return of the porpoising phenomenon, which resulted in the cars bouncing at speed.
When the issue was at its worst at the bumpy Baku street circuit, Pierre Gasly warned that drivers would require a walking stick at the age of 30 if the situation was not resolved.
Additional reporting by Thomas Maher
Lando Norris plagued by severe back pain
Measures have since been put in place to control porpoising, with the sight of a bouncing F1 car relatively rare in 2023.
Speaking at the recent Italian Grand Prix, Norris revealed that he has struggled with back discomfort over the last year with the situation much improved compared to 2022.
However, the McLaren driver did concede that he has been forced to alter both his pre-race preparations and elements of his lifestyle in order to manage the pain.
He told media, including PlanetF1.com’s Thomas Maher: “A lot of things have already been put in place. I made a couple of new seats already.
“It was worse last year than it is this year. Almost every year until last year, I could get away with just hopping in the car and not doing any physio. Not the best thing, I always did it but I could get away with it.
“Now I have to do it. I have to stretch, I have to do all these things, morning and evening, before every session. If I don’t, then I always struggle a lot more with my back.
“It’s not just racing, it is just other things. It’s just something that I’ve had to work on in general anyway, but it’s definitely not helped by some of the changes on the car over the last couple of years.
“It got to quite a bad point last year, a pretty bad point: every day I was struggling, struggling with sleep and everything, just in constant pain.
“And now I’m in a much better position, but I’m also limiting a lot more things around it with doing more stretching, all those things.
“But [it’s] limiting even [with] my golf. I play a lot less golf just because of my back, doing more physio – all those things. So, some things I have to crank up and some things I have to pay the price for, like playing golf or certain sports, because normally it’s always sports and walking.
“Even track walks. As soon as I do a track walk, I struggle a lot, so I’ve had to cut down on track walks, little things that maybe I didn’t realise but have helped me quite a bit just to get into a better position and struggle a lot less because I was struggling a lot every day, every night with quite a bit of pain.
“But I’m in a much better position now so I’ve done some of my own stuff and done some stuff with the team and the seating and stuff like that.
“I’m happy now. I mean, I would love to play more golf as well and certain things – even with cycling and running – my back hurts.
“So I still can’t do everything that I would want to do, but there’s also things away from the track I’ve just got to do more – more training for my core and lower back and glutes and things like that.
“Just more of a focus on, if I wanted to get better, I’ve got to do other things rather than just trying to make the seat better and allow the car to somehow get better over time. It’s not going to be the case.
“So I don’t know, I hope there isn’t any long-term effects but a number of people have spoken up about it and said it. I know everyone’s different. Some people don’t, some people do.
“But I guess for my own health and everything, that is something I need to look after.”
Andrea Stella, the McLaren team principal, said the team are working in conjunction with Norris in order to limit his discomfort behind the wheel.
He explained: “We are following this battle very closely with Lando and, obviously, some will have to come from his own understanding of what his body requires in terms of potentially even conditioning and in terms of how he needs to sit in the car to be comfortable and avoid this kind of issue.
“From our side, there’s quite a lot of variables that we can play with but we need to know exactly where we have to put our focus, so it’s really a work in progress.
“There’s no revolution in the plan in terms of the seating position, our upright, so we are in the middle of the process and I guess we will discover a bit more.
“But at the moment it looks like it seems to be getting better after a season, so we are hoping in a way that this will gradually fix itself thanks to the work that Lando is also doing and adaptation even in terms of lifestyle – which I know must be very, very painful for such a passionate golf player!”
Norris has been heavily linked with a move to Red Bull to replace under-pressure Sergio Perez in recent weeks – and left the door open to becoming Max Verstappen’s team-mate when asked about the speculation at Monza.
“I think it’d be great to work alongside someone like that and, at the same time, see where I can really stand against him,” Norris commented. “I’d be open for it.”
It is unclear whether Norris’s revelations about his back pain would compromise his chances of landing a move away, with backs understood to be an important element of a racing driver’s anatomy.
Valtteri Bottas, the current Alfa Romeo driver, was forced to miss the 2015 Australian GP after suffering a small tear to a disc in his lower back during qualifying at Albert Park.