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