Formula One’s Lando Norris discusses uncertain 2020 season

Photo by Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images
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McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris is prepared for an uncertain season in Formula One in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The worldwide shutdown has impacted the Formula One World Championship because that racing series competes all over the globe.

McLaren was the first team to pull out of season-opening Australian Grand Prix in mid-March when several of its team members tested positive for COVID-19. Within a day, the event was canceled and Formula One has been parked ever since.

“If I talk on behalf of McLaren and all of us as a team, there are a lot of people, at the moment a lot of them are furloughed, the majority are,” Norris said Friday. “We’re not in the perfect situation for everyone.”

Since then, the 20-year-old Norris has been participating in sim races to keep his racing skills sharp. He will be IndyCar’s guest in Saturday’s AutoNation IndyCar Classic at virtual Circuit of the America’s (COTA).

That virtual contest will be televised on NBCSN Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

Sim racing is as close as any real-world race driver can get to actual competition. Teams around the world are forced to park their cars.

That means no testing, no racing, nothing other than virtual racing.

“The worst thing is the fact that we didn’t get to drive any car at all,” Norris said. “We can’t be an F3 car, F2 car or anything. Everyone is literally stuck at home. The fastest thing we get to drive for real is our road car on the roads, which isn’t very fast. It is weird.

“I don’t know about the IndyCar guys, but for us there’s not going to be a test beforehand. From what I’ve heard so far, we’re going straight into the race. The races are likely to be doubleheaders, two races in a weekend. Everything is going to be a lot more compact, kind of thrown at you a lot more.”

Doubleheader rounds are part of the NTT IndyCar Series schedule and will be utilized this year if racing returns as planned in June. By running extra rounds at Iowa Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca will help IndyCar have a planned 15-race schedule.

NASCAR had planned on a doubleheader at Pocono Raceway in June so teams would make just one trip to the Pennsylvania mountains instead of two.

McLaren’s Carlos Sainz at Sochi Russia in 2019 — Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

When Formula One is allowed to return to racing, it’s going to likely include doubleheader rounds.

“Usually we have the pre-season and testing to get into everything,” Norris said. “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.

“There are 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.

“It’s going to be a challenge no matter what, 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.”

A lot has to happen before any racing series can return to action. The COVID-19 virus has to be brought under control, but vaccines are a long way from being developed. Meantime, social distancing and wide-spread shutdowns seem to be the only way to keep it from dramatically increasing. But that has left the economy devastated.

“The quicker we can get back to all of us working together and doing the job that we want to do, the better,” Norris said. “That 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.

“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 One race.

“Of course, a lot of people want it. Formula One wants 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.

“They’ve got to make a tough decision on how to do it, the logistics of everything, so on.”

Meantime, race drivers from around the world have turned to sim racing and the virtual world to try to stay sharp and have a little competitive fun at the same time.

“I’ve done a lot of races on a lot of different programs, eSports events, and I’m having a lot of fun,” Norris said. “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.

“The earlier we can get back to working together as McLaren, as a team, the better for everyone.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”