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McLaren CEO Zak Brown believes F1 star Lando Norris is a “franchise driver”, likening the 23-year-old to the type of talent an NFL organisation would structure their entire team around.
Norris was comfortably the best of the rest in the 2022 season, finishing the season in seventh behind Lewis Hamilton in the Drivers’ standings with 122 points.
With a contract until 2025, Norris will no longer be the young gun as he pairs up with highly-rated F1 rookie Oscar Piastri, forming one of the most exciting driver pairings on the grid.
Although the young star is yet to win a single race in Formula 1, in an interview with ESPN, Brown stated that in a race where all drivers were in equal cars, Norris would be battling at the front of the pack due to his “natural talent”.
Lando is a franchise driver,” he said.
“Lando is one of those guys if we put everyone in a dirt buggy and we put all the F1 drivers in a race, he’d be at the front because he’s got that kind of natural talent.
“He’s a total star. And he’s pushing us.”
Watching fellow Englishman George Russell finish the season in fourth can’t have been an easy pill for Norris to swallow. Limited by his car, Norris had to watch his rival since youth claimed podiums and a first win career win at Mercedes.
“He wants to be winning races,” said Brown.
“I’m sure he knows he can beat George and he has beaten George before… and he goes out and wins.
“He’s going to be anxious. People he’s raced with don’t get too many more wins before he starts getting his.”
When asked if he considered Norris in the top tier of current drivers, Brown replied: “Definitely.
“Unbelievably fast. He pulls it out in qualifying all the time. He can put a lap together. He rarely makes mistakes — when he does they’re very small. It’s, he missed the apex, he locked a brake, but you don’t see him sticking it in the fence.
“His race craft is really strong now. If I look at year one, he was a little too polite on track at times. Now he’s someone you can race hard with and he’ll race you hard, he’s clean but he’s hard, he gets his elbows out. He can manage tyres very well. I think he is as good as anyone on the grid.”
Brown has long held a strong belief in Norris’ talent, which was further strengthened when he paired him with Fernando Alonso in the 2018 Daytona 24 Hours race for his sports car team a few months prior to Norris’ debut season.
I think he is as good as anyone on the grid,” said Brown.
“I’ve felt that from day one when I put him against Fernando in the 24 Hours of Daytona, foreign car, foreign track.
“I think Fernando is as good as any F1 driver there’s every been… and Lando matches him, and depending on what time of day it was, maybe he even got him a little bit, and vice versa.
“You see that natural talent. You do get some drivers who are a one-make discipline and you throw them in a unique situation and they don’t get up to speed as quickly.”
Whilst Norris may need better conditions in order to rack up the achievements made by Fernando Alonso, it’s hard to argue against the raw talent at LN4’s finger tips.