Norris on tough mental battle during 2023 F1 season: “In a way we didn’t know how much we were going to improve — especially the very beginning”

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Photo Credits McLaren F1 Team

When the 2023 F1 season started, McLaren clearly struggled more than many other teams. However, two big upgrade packages during the season resulted in the team improving massively and even showing the kind of performance which had them competing against Red Bull Racing for race wins. Lando Norris reflected on the emotions he experienced during the season and the mindset required. 

Lando Norris finished sixth in the 2023 F1 Drivers’ Championship and his 205 points contributed to McLaren ‘s total of 302 which saw the constructor finish P4 in the standings. However, with 193 of his points being scored since Austria – it was very much a season of two halves for McLaren. Norris reflected on the mental side of such a season.

“The beginning was tough…because I thought it was gonna be for the whole year in a way. We didn’t know how much we were going to improve – especially the very beginning.” Norris explained.

The mid season updates completely transformed McLaren. It also saw Norris achieve six second place finishes from Silverstone onwards. Norris’ remarks showed that despite what was being said to the media at the time, there was always the worry that maybe things would not turn around after all.

“Of course, we said, ‘we’ll be a bit patient and we know we’ve got some decent things coming’ but in the past few years when you’ve had decent things coming they’ve not always stood up to be that much of an improvement.”

“So, this year was quite the opposite and it turned out to be almost a bigger improvement than we were expecting. But it was tough because you never want to start the season kind of thinking ‘well, I’ve got 24 races to go, or 23 races and I can’t even get of Q1, and it’s tough kind of knowing that and thinking that so early on in the season it just makes you think ‘damn it’s gonna be a hell of a long year’.

“But I think what set us up very well is that it made everyone work very hard to try and achieve everything you could with a bad car which did set us up very nicely for when we eventually had a good car.” stated Norris.

Following the mid-season update, McLaren was certainly close to being the best team when it came to maximising points every weekend – with Las Vegas being the obvious exception. Norris explained how impressed he was by the reliability of his team and having a quick car but also made clear that they could only reach that stage as a result of enduring the struggles earlier in the year.

“I think being in a bad position at the start of the year almost helps us a little bit because you realise sometimes that when you’re quick a lot of things are easy and they come easily and you kind of forget sometimes the smaller things. When you’re struggling every little tiny small thing is almost more important and therefore you utilise them more. So, when you have a quick car you kind of have a quick car and you’re utilising a lot of stuff.” Norris claimed.

Of course, when a team eventually has a competitive package, they then have a host of other issues to overcome. As Norris admitted: “It’s a different race when you’re fighting there comparing to at the back.”

Having made such progress in the latter part of the season, McLaren should be well placed to start the 2024 season as they left off. The turnaround in the team was one which made Norris ‘emotionally proud’ as he called his team’s progress one of the biggest turnarounds of the last ten years. What McLaren achieved was quite something in a time when there is reduced wind tunnel time as well as a cost cap to meet. A feat that was not lost on Norris.

“So for us to do that against Mercedes – who dominated Formula One a few years ago for what 5/6 years – against Ferrari who’ve always been one of the best teams; to catch up with Red Bull who have had the most dominant car/team combo almost ever in Formula One – I would say ever in Formula One. For us to then be close at some races to beating them I think is quite impressive and a great achievement for everyone in the team. So, yeah, proud and very happy because I think we didn’t expect it to be so good.”

2023 saw new faces at the team in terms of Team Principal Andrea Stella and rookie driver Oscar Piastri. However, 2024 will start with far more stability. Not only this, but Norris (who joined the Woking-based manufacturer as a junior driver back in 2017) signed a contract extension in the middle of 2023 which will see him remain at the team for a few more years to come.

Inevitably, the expectation is high now for McLaren to go one step further and claim their first race win since 2021. Lando Norris clearly has the required mental toughness and it looks like he may even have the required package to compete at the front and stay there.