Brown calls Norris 'franchise driver', as good as Alonso

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren with Zak Brown (USA) McLaren Executive Director. 29.09.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Preparation
© XPB 

CEO Zak Brown says that Lando Norris is the driver around which the McLaren Formula 1 franchise will continue to be based around, adding that he sees the 23-year-old Briton is a match even for Fernando Alonso.

“I think he is as good as anyone on the grid," Brown told ESPN this weekend. "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 ever been," he added. "Lando matches him, and depending on what time of day it was, maybe he even got him a little bit, and vice versa."

Brown took over operations at McLaren at a time when Alonso was the star driver, although the team was struggling with a troubled relationship with engine providers Honda. Frustration led to Alonso deciding to take a two-year sabbatical from F1.

His seat was taken up by Norris, while Brown also partnered with Alonso in sportscar entries and for the Indianapolis 500, giving him the ideal close-up view of both men - and seeing plenty of similarities.



“Lando’s 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.

"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.”

Norris is yet to win a Grand Prix - his best finish to date was second place in the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, finished just behind his team mate Daniel Ricciardo in the first McLaren 1-2 in over a decade.

But even so, Brown is confident that Norris is the sort of driver around which to base the McLaren franchise, in the same way that NFL teams in the US are built up around a star quarterback.

It's an increasingly common approach in F1 these days, with Red Bull very much revolving around Max Verstappen and Ferrari making it clear that their long term future lay in the hands of Charles Leclerc.

“Lando’s a franchise driver,” Brown insisted. "He’s a total star, and he’s pushing us ... He wants to be winning races.

"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," he added. "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."

With George Russell clinching his maiden F1 victory with Mercedes in last year's Sao Paulo GP in Brazil, Brown is aware that Norris doesn't want to start to fall behind his contemporaries.

“He’s going to be anxious people he’s raced with don’t get too many more wins before he starts getting his," Brown acknowledged. "I’m sure he knows he can beat George, and he has beaten George before."

This year will see Norris facing a brand new challenge in his F1 career - shouldering the burden of being the senior driver and de facto team leader for the first time.

In the wake of Daniel Ricciardo's departure, Norris will be joined on the grid this season by rookie driver Oscar Piastri, the former Formula 2 champion who dramatically cut his ties to Alpine during the summer.

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