By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The 70th season of Formula One is still on the rocks with its racing calendar and various ideas on how to go about it once the COVID-19 health crisis ends continue being the biggest topics.
Whether it’s having a super season, running multiple grand prix events at one circuit, venues that don’t host a race being added or even have the 20-car grid competing on the opposite direction. McLaren F1 Team driver Lando Norris is simply open of getting the campaign going when it becomes feasible, but is self-aware of one problem.
The issue in hand is coming back too soon where it could cause catastrophic consequences for all parties.
“Of course, a lot of people want it. Formula 1 want it. The fans want it. There’s still a lot more people in the world which can honestly been affected by it. If anything goes wrong, it can impact the sport in a big way,” Norris on the future of F1.
“They’ve got to make a tough decision on how to do it, the logistics of everything, so on.”
Norris spoke on behalf of McLaren during Friday morning’s INDYCAR iRacing Challenge video conference about the situation. More so after his team were impacted by the crisis as multiple workers tested positive during the Australian Grand Prix weekend last month.
Due to this, McLaren had to withdraw Norris and Carlos Sainz, Jr. out of the event in Albert Park. The grand prix was eventually canceled altogether and any F1 action has been on hold ever since with his team currently furloughed.
“The quicker we can get back to all of us working together and doing the job that we want to do, which is working together as a team, trying to improve the car, beat the other teams, I’ll start climbing the ladder even more to the top spots. We want to be doing that as soon as possible,” said Norris.
“At the same time it’s not down to us. It’s down to the safety of everyone else. Whichever track we might go to or we may go to, again I think the people living there, the people which would be affected by a Formula 1 race.”
While F1 action is on hold, the 20-year-old British racer has kept himself busy in the world of sim racing ranging from iRacing to Codemasters’ F1 2019. Fun it may be, Norris reiterated that he would like to reunite with his squad as his home is two minutes away from the race shop.
“I’m having fun as it is with what I’m doing. I’ve done a lot of races on a lot of different programs, eSports events,” said Norris.
“At the same time real racing is what I love the most doing. I live two minutes away from McLaren. I cycle there most days or I run past. It’s sad to see it in the state it’s in, literally with hardly anyone in there apart from the guys and girls that work on the ventilator project. It’s weird.”
Norris will make his INDYCAR iRacing Challenge debut at the virtual Circuit of the Americas, home of the United States Grand Prix where he finished seventh last year.
Only this time, he’ll look to navigate COTA in the 32-lap event known as the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge. Among the 32 other competitors Norris will face, one familiar person from his junior formula days will race. That’s none other than 2019 INDYCAR COTA winner and former British Formula 3 and MSA Formula 4 teammate Colton “Hooligan” Herta.
Norris reflected on the 19-year-old sensation’s time in Europe back in the mid-2010s fondly with some banter being thrown.
“I really had some warning messages coming in from Colton’s side. I don’t know if I should read them out or not,” Norris laughed.
“I’m looking forward to it. I think obviously I’ve seen Colton racing. It’s been a while since he raced in F4 back in the day. We had some really good times. Yeah, we have a lot of respect for each other. I’m excited.”
If there’s one major improvement the McLaren F1 sophomore noticed on the Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport driver, it’s no doubt his maturity. Definitely the case after Herta scored an additional INDYCAR win at Laguna Seca and three poles since his maiden win at COTA.
“I don’t know, I don’t want to sound like I’m talking like a guy with loads of experience, but looks like he’s matured in quite a way as I think I have in some ways,” said Norris. “It looks like he’s become an even better driver than what he was, and he was freaking fast when I was racing against him. He was nicknamed Hooligan Herta for many reasons.
“Yeah, I think it’s exciting. The racing we had was good fun.”
Herta has tremendous respect for Norris, staring that it’s awesome to have his former Carlin teammate run with the brave NTT IndyCar Series and Virgin Australia Supercars (Scott McLaughlin and Chaz Mostert, who’ll join Norris as INDYCAR Challenge debutants) drivers at COTA.
“I got to race against him for a year in British F4, then did some testing with him through Formula 3 and stuff. Have a lot of respect for him,” said Herta.
“It’s cool to see all these guys that are interested in running INDYCAR and have the chance now virtually to do it. It is really cool to be able to race against Lando again. Looking forward to it.”
Saturday’s event will make Norris the latest crossover talent to compete in a virtual Indy car, joining the likes of Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin, Rallycross star Scott Speed, and NASCAR icons Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
INDYCAR veteran driver/owner Ed Carpenter commented that while it’s much easier having competitors from different disciplines run against each other on iRacing, he’s not against the idea of having such drivers run in real-life someday with Johnson and McLaughlin publicly expressing interest.
“This may open up some more enthusiasm and motivate some guys to get in a real car and try it. We’ll have to wait and see,” said Carpenter. “I don’t think any of us as drivers would be against it. I think we’re all confident in our abilities and the product that the INDYCAR Series is, the competitiveness and quality of talent of the drivers.
“I think any time you can get other world class drivers coming in to showcase our sport, it’s something that I am fine with personally. There are a lot of hurdles to clear to see it happen on a more regular basis.”
After running multiple race practice sessions, Norris figured out right away that the American open wheelers require a lot of physical strength than the technological European counterparts.
“Usually we have the pre-season and testing to get into everything. With INDYCAR, I’ve never driven one, but there’s no power steering so physically that’s one of the hardest things. From the F1 stuff, it’s more physical with the neck,” Norris on the open wheel comparisons having quite a contrast to the driver’s body.
“There’s different things you kind of have to get used to. The neck is one of the hardest things to keep up over the winter. Going into doubleheaders and so on, long races, those are the things you have to try to keep on top of but are not easy to keep on top of.”
Norris along with the other 32 competitors are set to partake in Saturday’s penultimate round of the iRacing series as live coverage begins at 2:30 pm EST on NBCSN.
“It’s going to be a challenge no matter what,” said Norris. “Especially with the cars being quicker this year in Formula 1, taking another setup forward. It’s going to be physical, but it is every year, and that’s part of the challenge.”