‘He has natural, God-given talent’: Sir Jackie Stewart hails Lando Norris who will start eighth on the grid for F1 debut after impressing in qualifying
Sir Jackie Stewart hailed British teenager Lando Norris as a special talent after his princely entry into Formula One.
The 19-year-old debutant produced the biggest performance of his life during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, taking his McLaren deep into the realms of the unexpected.
He qualified eighth while his more experienced team-mate Carlos Sainz, who was slightly hampered on track, was 18th of the 20 runners.
Lando Norris qualified a highly impressive eighth on his Formula One debut for McLaren
Norris was seemingly nerveless at the crunch moments, pulling out laps that mark him out as a driver of immense promise – an echo of Lewis Hamilton’s own memorable entry into Formula One on the same track 12 years ago.
Triple world champion Stewart, who was watching from the Albert Park paddock as five-time champion Hamilton took a crushing pole for Mercedes, said: ‘Lando has natural, God-given talent.
‘What he needs to learn through experience is mind-management. You cannot afford to get wound up.
Sir Jackie Stewart has tipped Norris to have a bright future within Formula One
‘I won most of my races in the first five laps while some of the others were still pulling themselves together. If he can do that, he will go far.’
Norris has quickly learned that reaching F1 is life-changing, having received a bracelet from a female admirer among other gifts from fans in recent days.
But much of his life remains essentially ordinary for now – he drives a Polo and lives in a small flat in Guildford, close to McLaren’s Woking factory.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was at his best again on Saturday, producing a scintillating final flourish to beat team-mate Valtteri Bottas into second place. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was a yawning seven-tenths of a second off the pace in third.
Norris (above) out-qualified his more experienced team-mate Carlos Sainz on Saturday
Norris’s McLaren team is a very different one from the front-running outfit Hamilton joined. They have been down on their luck recently.
But Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion, believes Norris’s ability will act as motivation among engineers and mechanics to help lift them back up the grid on a regular basis.
‘I had heard a lot about Lando, all of it glowing, but now I know why,’ said Hill. ‘He just wants to be driving a competitive car and more importantly he can galvanise the team because there is nothing like a driver that excites.’
McLaren chief executive Zak Brown admitted that, with Norris at the heart of it, was the best day of his often troubled 16 months in charge.
The Brit drives out the McLaren garage during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix