Lando Norris shines in China but McLaren star remains F1’s nearly man

The Briton secured his 15th career podium finish in China, but he is still waiting for his first win in F1 and for McLaren

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Lando Norris will come away from the Formula 1 2024 Chinese Grand Prix with a feeling of euphoria and perhaps also a tinge of regret. Another weekend goes by with the McLaren finishing on the podium, with a subtle acknowledgement that there could have been even more.

That is not to undersell the achievement Norris pulled off in Shanghai, beating Sergio Perez to second place and clinching pole position in sprint qualifying. Naturally, it demonstrated exactly what the majority of F1 fans believe: Norris will be a world champion one day.

But in order to challenge for the title, he needs to win a race. And after 109 race entries, it is something he is yet to experience since making his debut in 2019.

Some saw the sprint race in Shanghai as the perfect opportunity to correct that after he snatched pole from Lewis Hamilton on Saturday. Not only is the McLaren faster than the Mercedes right now, Max Verstappen was starting fourth and it gave Norris the chance to drive off into the distance.

Lando Norris during 2024 Chinese GP | Aston Martin McLaren
Lando Norris during 2024 Chinese GP | Aston Martin McLaren

Alas, that didn’t happen after he was outwitted by Hamilton at Turn 1 and veered onto the run-off area. Then on Sunday, when the safety car gifted him a chance to move up to second, he was unable to keep apace with Verstappen’s RB20 and settled for P2.

He has come close on a number of occasions, but no closer than in Sochi back in 2021 for the Russian GP. Leading the race after a stellar drive, rain arrived in the final stages of the race to wreak havoc – and an inexperienced Norris decided to overrule his team’s call to bring him in for intermediate tyres.

Minutes later, the severity of the rain increased and Norris skidded off the track on slick tyres, allowing Hamilton to pass him.

Lessons to be learned

Crestfallen, Norris picked himself up after the race and admitted he was “devastated” to lose out on the win, but knew that his time would come. Three years down the line and the wait continues.

Sochi was a devastating moment, and one he would learn from, as Norris is much more in sync with his race engineers three years down the line. That was a case of bad luck, and when he helped McLaren secure a 1-2 at the Italian GP in the same season, it would’ve been painful to see his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo on top of the podium, even if the Australian deserved his solitary win with the Papaya.

The 24-year-old would have no issue with admitting that his six second-place finishes in 2023 were simply because Max Verstappen’s Red Bull was the faster car. Then again, to see drivers such as Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly and Ricciardo – all now fully entrenched in the midfield – pick up wins will be mystifying to those who regard Norris as an elite F1 talent.

Even George Russell, his close friend and former Formula 2 championship rival, has broken his duck – stepping on top of the podium when he beat Hamilton at the 2022 Brazilian GP. Likewise, his team-mate Oscar Piastri won a sprint race in his rookie season in Qatar.

Of course, there is a danger that Norris could fulfil the old adage of always being the bridesmaid and never the bride. He currently tops the unfortunate list of drivers in F1 history with the most points without a win, surpassing Nico Hulkenberg, who still doesn’t have a podium finish to his name in over 208 race starts.

But with 15 podium finishes already in his career, there is no doubt Norris will get there eventually. He has the composure and class to lead from the front, and has shown that on a number of occasions. It’s only a matter of time before he finally puts the only blemish against his name to bed for good.

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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