Formula One’s Lando Norris discusses uncertain 2020 season

Photo by Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

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 

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.