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Lando Norris: The Darling of Formula One

All drivers are equal, but some drivers are more equal than others.

Paraphrase of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (1945)

 

Unlike Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll, Lando Norris entered Formula One under a shower of praise from the sports press. Journalists, narrators, and commentators extolled the young English driver in the same way they did to Charles Leclerc in 2018 and 2019. The impression the fans had was that a big star was coming to the tracks.

However, compared to other drivers of his generation, Norris has not achieved great things. Still, this did not prevent the media from treating him as one of the greatest athletes in Formula One. That fueled the fanaticism of many fans, who are even aggressive towards those who doubt the driver’s alleged mastery. In this article, we will analyze Norris’s profile and the media’s intentions behind his idolatry.

 

1- Lando Norris’s origins

 

Born in Bristol on November 13th, 1999, Lando Norris is the second child of businessman Adam Norris and his wife, Cisca Wauman. The couple is also the parents of Oliver, Flo, and Cisca. According to a report in the Bristol Post, Adam Norris’s fortune reached £ 205 million in 2019, making him one of the richest men in the United Kingdom.

His family’s financial conditions allowed Norris to have certain privileges compared with most of the world’s population, like a full-time tutor to assist him in mathematics and physics subjects. The driver studied at the traditional Millifield School but dropped out of school before graduating. Norris is not modest in saying that “If I wasn’t a very good driver it would not be a wise decision.”

 

Lando Norris and his father Adam. (Photo: F1i.com) [1]

 

From 2014 to 2018, Norris participated in 16 editions of single-seat championships before debuting in Formula One. He won five of them: the MSA Formula in 2015, Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, Formula Renault 2.0 NEC, and Toyota Racing Series in 2016, and European Formula Three in 2017.

Considering the media treatment given to drivers who had previously debuted in Formula One in a similar situation, and bearing in mind his bourgeois origin, Norris would be a good candidate for the nickname “pay driver.” However, traditional media outlets avoid associating it with the category’s inherent elitism.

 

2- The internet’s teen sensation

 

It is almost a consensus among sociologists that social networks greatly influence a company or public figure’s reputation. Bought by Liberty Media at the end of 2016, Formula One itself began to invest heavily in online advertising in the hope of attracting young audiences. The result was positive, with a considerable increase in audience and interaction with the category, in addition to significant financial gains.

Lando Norris knew how to take advantage of that resource. Through humorous posts on social networks, the driver shaped his reputation among Internet users. Consequently, he formed a young fan base, which was one of the goals of Formula One. However, most new fans could not distinguish Norris from the internet from Norris from the tracks. Soon, delighted by the content of social networks, they started to consider the driver as one of the best in the sport, even though the facts prove otherwise.

 

Unlike what happens on the tracks, Norris’ posture on social media is usually very humorous, which attracted many fans. (Photo: Drive Tribe) [2]

 

To analyze the performance of the English driver, we consider seven drivers on the 2021 grid from the so-called “new generation of Formula One”: Max Verstappen, Lance Stroll, Charles Leclerc, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Lando Norris, and George Russell. Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher, and Nikita Mazepin are left out since they are rookies in 2021, not having enough time to reach a substantial verdict. The same goes for Nicholas Latifi, who debuted in 2020. Among the seven previously mentioned, Verstappen had the best performance during his career, followed by Leclerc, Stroll, and Gasly. Norris is the third from the bottom’s list, just ahead of Ocon and Russell, as shown in the table below.

 

 

To classify someone as “talented” or “pay driver,” it is necessary to establish evaluation criteria. According to the impacts on the driver’s history and the championship table, the ones adopted are wins, podiums, pole positions, records, and points*. Through the joint analysis of the data, we arrive at the verdict on the athlete’s performance. Gasly, for example, has a win so far and Stroll none, but the Canadian has one pole, three podiums, and two records against two podiums by the Frenchman. Therefore, Stroll is ahead of Gasly, beating him on three of the five established criteria.

(*The points affect the championship table, but the records are more remarkable for the driver’s history, so they were placed ahead in the order of relevance for the analysis. In addition, the points are dependent on the particularity of each race.)

In the case of Norris, who so far has three podiums, he overcomes Ocon and Russell, drivers with a certain peculiarity. Until the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, that year’s penultimate race, Ocon had not had a podium, and Russell had not scored. It is clear from official data that it would be more reasonable to consider Verstappen, Leclerc, Stroll, and Gasly “more talented” than Norris. But traditional sports media has another approach.

 

An internet user expresses support for Norris on Twitter with a generalist phrase. (Photo: 9GAG) [3]

 

Unfortunately, the financial interests of a media outlet outweigh the commitment to the facts. In the sports environment, it is observed that sponsors of athletes and teams also fund broadcasters and websites, influencing the way their advisors are represented in the media. Therefore, the athlete’s reputation results from his press office’s work and his sponsors’ influence in the media. The driver’s posture can also have some impact on reputation (especially in scandals). But sometimes, in less severe cases, it falls into the shadow of the other two factors.

That explains, for example, the situations of Stroll and Norris. Facts indicate Stroll has talent and cannot be considered a “pay driver.” However, he will still be crucified in the media due to his advisers’ incompetence and the driver’s passivity before image crises (see “Racing Point: A Poorly Managed Image”). At the same time, Norris will be portrayed as a very talented and generous driver, even though his results and behavior show the opposite.

 

3- Humble Lando Norris: a character from children’s stories

 

During the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix broadcast, Brazilian narrator Sérgio Maurício and commentators Reginaldo Leme and Max Wilson took the time to praise Lando Norris. The most used adjective was “humble.” However, none of the three cited an event that proved this alleged “humility” of the driver. In real life, Norris’s behavior is far from what can be considered “humble.”

Norris’s first heated moment was at the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix when he collided with Lance Stroll. He apologized to the team for the crash, admitting his responsibility, but then raged against the Canadian. The Englishman blamed Stroll even though the commissioners had cleared him. At the French Grand Prix, he ordered McLaren to tell Carlos Sainz Jr. to swap positions. When Sergio Pérez overtook him at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Norris cried on the radio and belittled the Mexican’s performance.

 

Norris’s acid comments don’t spare even his teammates. The most recent case was Ricciardo. (Photo: GPBlog) [4]

 

In 2020, during the Belgian Grand Prix, the driver verbally assaulted his engineer, who had warned him about exceeding the track limits (which could lead to a penalty). At the Italian Grand Prix, annoyed that Stroll had won the podium, Norris acted hypocritically. He made unfounded criticisms of the FIA ​​regulation that allows tire changes during the red flag. However, he omitted that the stewards investigated him for being too slow in the pits, which in fact, runs counter to the rules. At the Eifel Grand Prix, the driver was rude to his team, using a foul vocabulary again. After a collision with Stroll at the Portuguese Grand Prix, Norris offended the opponent’s learning ability. In an interview the same week, he belittled Lewis Hamilton’s seventh world title and credited it to the Mercedes car. After severe criticism for the arrogant stance, Norris apologized to Stroll and Hamilton but did not even mention their names, referring to both as “certain people.”

At the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Norris demanded McLaren to order Daniel Ricciardo swapping positions. Unlike what happened in France in 2019, the team accepted the English driver’s wishes. Despite the maneuver, considered unsportsmanlike by many experts, the audience elected Norris as “Driver of the Day.” However, the most impressive performance of that race was that of Hamilton, who reached the second place after a hit in the wall almost took him out. In addition, Norris said openly that he “has no sympathy” for Ricciardo before the difficulties faced by his teammate and that he considers him “less adaptable” than Sainz. The Englishman also reports that he aims for a “leading” position within McLaren.

 

An article on the Formula One official website reports that there were team orders in Norris and Ricciardo swap positions. (Photo: Formula One official website) [5]

 

The facts listed above prove that Norris has no ethical and respectful posture within the sports environment, both with his team and other competitors. Therefore, the word “humble” does not describe his conduct, even though the Brazilian narrators and commentators insist on treating him as such. It is noteworthy that the same Sérgio Maurício, who applauds Norris, despite all the rudeness spoken by the English, criticized Max Verstappen for responding harshly to a journalist’s rude question in 2018. We return to the paraphrase at the beginning of the text: “All drivers are equal, but some drivers are more equal than others.”

While the mainstream media overlooks Norris’s inappropriate behavior and sells him as the best and most humble driver of all time, independent journalists and internet users have unmasked this fraud. Initially, the driver was compared to Veruca Salt, from the children’s book “The Fantastic Chocolate Factory” (1964). They have characteristics in common: both are English, very wealthy, and demand that all their wishes be met, no matter how much they need to shout for it.

 

Although the sports media tries to disguise it, Norris has many characteristics in common with Veruca Salt. [5]

 

Also, they compared Norris with other fictional characters. One of them is Quico, from the Mexican series “El Chavo del Ocho” (1973-1980), famous for shouting his catchphrase “Shut up, shut up, shut up, you make me crazy.” The reference is due to the several times Norris yelled at his engineer on the radio. Another character compared to Norris is Prince Adam, from Disney’s franchise “Beauty and the Beast” (this, in turn, is an adaptation of the French tale by Suzanne de Villeneuve, written in 1740). The movie “The Enchanted Christmas” (1998) revealed that Adam acted very rude to his servants and was indifferent to the suffering of others. As a result, a witch decided to turn him into a beast. In addition to the prince, Norris’s father’s namesake, another French character with behavior similar to that of the driver is Chloé Bourgeois, from the cartoon “Miraculous.” Unable to love anyone other than herself, Chloé mistreats anyone who crosses her path. Also, she thinks that serving and idolizing her is everyone’s duty. Although Chloé shows no respect for anyone, she has a large fan base (mainly Americans), just like Norris; these relativize her crude profile and hope for her triumph in the end.

 

Journalists treat Norris as a “humble rich one” (like Adrien Agreste), but in real life, he acts like a “spoiled rich one” (like Chloé Bourgeois). [6]

 

Unfortunately, because it is not in line with its interests, the mainstream media will not treat Norris and his rudeness in the same way as other drivers. In addition, his most passionate fans will continue to promote hostile environments on the internet on his behalf until his wave of popularity dissipates.

Also, people must take the racial factor into account. Hamilton said in an interview that he “would be more popular in the UK if he were White,” which allows one more hypothesis to be raised. Aware that Hamilton is the most successful British driver in history, perhaps the media will try to invest in Norris’s image (just as George Russell’s), hoping that the audience will believe that the post will one day be filled by a White driver. Consequently, the media in other countries adopt the same stance once the central bodies of the official Formula One press are based in the United Kingdom.

 

4- Conclusion

 

The sports media elected Lando Norris as its favorite driver mainly due to the financial benefits he brings to both his sponsors and Formula One.  His popularity on social media has attracted many young fans to the category, but these see him through a celebrity filter. Then, they do not realize that the athlete is far from being the gentle star the press sells. Since Norris is well-advised and Formula One keeps money as its most significant factor, we may not see him being treated like other drivers anytime soon.

 

Addendum (23/07/2021): Lando Norris confirmed that McLaren received more sponsors when he debuted. Also, his participation on Twitch attracted more public. That information (checked here) proves the article’s main argument.

 


Sources:

 

1- Lando Norris’s origins

 

2- The internet’s teen sensation

*Sources of the table

 

3- Humble Lando Norris: a character from children’s stories

 

Addendum

 

Photos:

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