Norris now knows the magnitude of the challenge

Norris has a reality check: Now he knows the magnitude of the challenge

25 June at 06:00

Lando Norris ' face looked like thunder. Normally chatting happily with Max Verstappen after the race, but that was not there after the Spanish Grand Prix. It was reminiscent of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Also good friends for a long time until they both had a car that allowed them to become World Champions.

Hamilton and Rosberg went back even longer. Hamilton and Rosberg already competed against each other in the karts. Hamilton won, and Rosberg came second. However, they both entered F1. Hamilton at McLaren, Rosberg at Williams. Hamilton immediately competed for the world title and would win it in 2008, Rosberg raced in the middle of the pack. First at Williams, then at Mercedes.

In 2013, however, the two buddies were linked by Mercedes' management. Michael Schumacher made way for Hamilton, who was seen as the team's new leader by Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff. Rosberg thus saw his former friend walk into his team.

How Rosberg was destroyed by Hamilton

For Rosberg, this got tougher by the year. Especially when Mercedes had a mega-dominant car in 2014, it became a battle between the team's two drivers. No matter what Rosberg tried, the outcome remained the same as in karting: Hamilton won, and Rosberg came second.

It was not until 2016 that Rosberg got it right. He adjusted his sleep rhythm at home so he would not have jet lag on a race weekend, paid close attention to his diet and swore off all distractions. All for that one goal: to become the World Champion. And still, Rosberg did not seem to become the World Champion. Despite all the bad luck in the world for Hamilton, he still kept coming back into the title race, until that one race in Malaysia where Hamilton's engine failure forced him out while leading the race.

Despite all of Hamilton's bad luck that year, it still came down to the final race in Abu Dhabi as to who would become the World Champion. Rosberg knew enough was enough after a nerve-wracking finale to the season: he could not handle another year like that, and he retired as World Champion. Beating Hamilton over an entire season was almost impossible for him. Only with the utmost dedication was there a small chance, but even then he needed all the luck in the world to beat a talent like Hamilton.

Norris only now realises how good Verstappen really is

That realisation that you are facing an opponent whose talent is simply far greater than yours seems to be creeping in with Lando Norris now. For years, it was laugh, howl and roar whenever he was around Max. After all, Verstappen had a much better car, so measuring up to Verstappen was not something Norris needed to do. That is different now.

Indeed, anyone analysing the last few races comes to the same conclusion as Norris: McLaren had an equivalent, if not better car than Red Bull Racing since the Miami Grand Prix. Yet Norris managed to win only one of those five Grands Prix and finished ahead of Verstappen in only two of the five races. Why? Because Verstappen simply does not make mistakes.

Verstappen has been at a bizarrely high level since the 2018 Canadian Grand Prix, a level that even Lewis Hamilton could not contain in 2021. Everyone talks about the 'luck' in Abu Dhabi, but over the whole of 2021, Hamilton was prone to many more mistakes than Verstappen. Races like Monaco, Azerbaijan and Austria cost him the world title, not the unfortunate safety car in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen still reaches that level. It was less noticeable because he was driving so far up front, but Verstappen is still not making mistakes. It only stands out again now, because McLaren has a car that can compete with Red Bull Racing every weekend, and Ferrari and Mercedes can also compete for wins on some weekends. Only then is it noticeable how few mistakes Max makes compared to his rivals.

And that explained Norris' sour face. As in Imola and Canada, Norris should have won in Spain too. 'Should' doesn't count in F1, however, and Norris knows that too. Where he keeps making mistakes time after time, which is human, robot Verstappen goes on winning merrily.

Norris' sour look was therefore understandable. No laughter for a moment, no chuckles for a moment, just a stone-faced look. He barely threw a cap back in his friend's face (Rosberg after the 2015 United States Grand Prix), but it was close when Verstappen joked that he knew a birthday present for Norris: glasses. A joke about the incident at the start. Max could laugh at it, but Norris couldn't anymore. Those days are over.