A British rookie coming through the ranks at McLaren, and pushing his team-mate – a more experienced Spaniard – at the start of his Formula 1 career. Sounds like the famous story of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in 2007, right?
But no, this is Lando Norris, Britain’s latest impressive rookie, who has been superb in his opening eight races. And Sunday’s French Grand Prix was another example of it.
Qualifying has been a real point of strength for Norris so far in his F1 career – right from the off, when he stuck the McLaren eighth on the grid on his debut in Australia. And lining up fifth in France, in a McLaren, was a superb achievement.
Norris’ race was a struggle because he was battling a hydraulic issue with 20 laps remaining. But he managed to look good in dealing with that, too.
His car started losing performance. Initially, he had problems with the DRS overtaking aid, but moved on to slower gear shifts, reduced power steering and – more critically in the end – differential issues, which meant the car became difficult to drive, with snappy oversteer and a loss of traction.
I’ve had hydraulic failures before but usually they are sudden-onset and they rule you out of the race immediately. Indeed, two of my grands prix ended on the formation lap as the hydraulic issue meant I couldn’t even get around to start the race.
So, on the one hand, Norris was maybe fortunate to make it to the finish at all; on the other, the manner with which he did so was extremely impressive.
Despite his car ailing progressively, he managed to keep a consistent pace and his rivals out of range, until the final lap, where he finally succumbed to pressure from Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault, and ended up slipping from seventh to ninth.
But the points finish and subsequent vote by the fans as ‘driver of the day’ – a fairly meaningless but at least nice acknowledgement of Norris’ achievements – were the least the 19-year-old Briton deserved from the weekend.