McLaren boss Zak Brown has said that Lando Norris is an equal to Fernando Alonso, and that the young Brit is a driver worth building a whole team around.
Norris drove alongside Alonso for United Autosports in the 2018 24 Hours of Daytona and made his F1 debut a year later. He has since gone on to become one of the top stars in the sport with McLaren.
“I think he is as good as anyone on the grid,” Brown told ESPN. “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.
Brown‘s confidence in his young charge isn’t unfounded. Norris is in good form after a stellar 2022 where he almost single-handedly kept McLaren in the fight for fourth place in the constructors’ championship.
He hammered teammate Daniel Ricciardo, scoring nearly four times as many points, and Norris was the only driver outside the top three teams to get a podium finish.
Norris partners Oscar Piastri at McLaren in 2023, as the Woking outfit looks to bounce back from a disappointing 2022 campaign.
Alonso was the catalyst that drove Piastri to McLaren, as Alpine planned to only promote their junior into the team for 2024, so the Australian went shopping for other options.
When Alonso announced he was moving to Aston Martin, Alpine announced Piastri had taken the seat, but he’d already signed up at McLaren and gives them one of the strongest driver lineups in F1.
Norris a franchise driver
Norris will still be expected to spearhead the team, though. After impressing against the more experienced Carlos Sainz in his first two seasons in F1, he ascended to team leader alongside Ricciardo, and it will take a superb year from Piastri to dethrone him.
However, Norris‘ contract runs out in 2024 and McLaren will need to show they’re worth Norris investing his prime years in – especially now ex-McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl has jumped ship to head up Audi‘s F1 project.
“Lando‘s a franchise driver,” Brown added. “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. He’s a total star. And he’s pushing us.
“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.
“He wants to be winning races, I’m sure he knows he can beat George [Russell] 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.
“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.”