British teenager Lando Norris has admitted he would have run the gauntlet of guns in Brazil to take another step on his path to Formula One stardom.
Norris’ McLaren team scrapped their two-day test in Sao Paulo earlier this month after a series of harrowing security incidents overshadowed the penultimate round of the campaign.
Eight of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team were robbed at gunpoint, while Pirelli, F1’s tyre supplier who were due to take part in the test with McLaren, were targeted after the race on Sunday, but escaped unharmed.
Norris, the heir to Hamilton’s throne after a string of impressive displays in the junior ranks of motor racing, had flown to South America to take part for McLaren. But he left without turning a wheel in anger and another chance to impress. He departed Brazil less than 24 hours after he arrived.
“If it was on, then yes, 100 per cent,” said Norris, 18, when asked if he wanted the test to go ahead. “It was another opportunity to drive, and one you have to take. You do what you can and sacrifice other things to go and do it.
“I was looking forward to doing another test in Formula One. It was in Brazil, which I think is a pretty cool track to drive at. I was obviously disappointed.”
Norris turned heads with his impressive display in his first official F1 outing at August’s test in Hungary – in which he was second only to Sebastian Vettel – before going on to seal the prestigious F3 championship with two races to spare in Germany last month.
He was rewarded by McLaren after he was promoted to the role of reserve driver for 2018. It was also confirmed at the recent Mexican Grand Prix that Norris will partner Fernando Alonso at the prestigious Daytona 24-hour sportscar race in January.
The teenager from Glastonbury is in Abu Dhabi this weekend after he was handed his Formula Two debut by Campos Racing. He qualified 14th of 20 runners at the Yas Marina circuit on Friday.
“2019 or 2020 is the goal and the most realistic aim to land a full-time drive in Formula One,” Norris added. “It is hard to say whether it will be with McLaren. Of course, I would want it to be, but they are happy with Fernando and Stoffel Vandoorne and it is hard to know what they are going to choose moving forwards.
“I need to respect the help they have given me over the years and what they can offer me if I wait. If they say in 2020 that they do have a seat for me then I have got to respect that. They have helped me, and taken me on as a junior driver, so I would wait one year to drive for them.”
Few rookies have enjoyed such a consistent start to their Formula One careers as Esteban Ocon – eighth in the drivers’ standings and scoring points in every race except two this season.
The impressive Frenchman has accumulated 83 points in the driver’s standing, lying just 11 points behind Force India team-mate Sergio Perez in seventh position.
The duo have finished within one point of each other on 10 occasions this season, with the Mexican generally getting the upper hand over the youngster.
But it hasn’t been all rosy, with Force India threatening to impose team orders on the pair following three incidents this season – the most notable of which was a double collision at the Belgian GP which cost them valuable points following the retirement of Perez.
“It was a tough time for me and Sergio. The team had to take a decision that was difficult at the time. In the end they managed it well for both of us,” he said.
“If you take only one driver we would be P4 in the championship. It really means we’ve been solid this season, even though we got fourth place in the end in the constructors’ championship.”
Force India may be the top team outside of the big three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, but Ocon believes they can challenge their rivals and finish on a positive note at Yas Marina this weekend.
“I think it’s very good for your mind to finish on a high and to go into winter break feeling like you’ve finished well. If you finish badly then you have to climb up in your mind,” he said.
“You’re always learning every time you go out in the car. I’m working to be the best. I will not stop working until I reach that goal with the team.”
The return of the French Grand Prix next June is welcome news for the Evreux native. Ocon was 10 when the race was last held at Magny- Cours in 2008, with Felipe Massa storming to victory in a Ferrari.
“It’s awesome news having the French GP next year. All tickets were sold in two days. Some of my friends tried to get them and they couldn’t get any at all,” he said.
“It’s really nice to know it’s coming back to France. I hope it’s going to be a great show and be one of the best races on the calendar.”
Lewis Hamilton moved to the top of the order in second practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after trading blows with Sebastian Vettel at the final round of the season.
Hamilton finished behind Vettel in the day’s first running at the Yas Marina circuit after the Ferrari driver picked up where he left off following his victory in Brazil a fortnight ago.
But it was world champion Hamilton’s turn to edge out Vettel in the evening session as he bids to end his title-winning campaign with a bang.
Under the floodlights, Hamilton clocked a best effort of one minute and 37.877 to finish clear of Vettel with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo third in the order.
“It’s been a good Friday, but I’m happy that it’s the last one of the season,” said Hamilton, who clinched his fourth championship in Mexico last month. “We got lots of laps in today and made good progress with the balance of the car.
“We have a bit of work to do, but I feel like we’re quite competitive here. It’s relatively close still, but I like that.”
Vettel – who needs to finish only eighth here in the desert to seal the runner-up spot in this year’s championship – and Hamilton have both won on three occasions in Abu Dhabi, and both started from pole position three times, too.
And on the basis of Friday’s evidence at least, the pair, who went toe-to-toe for the title only for Vettel’s challenge to implode in the second half of the campaign, look set to dominate here once more.
Hamilton finished 0.139 seconds ahead of Vettel with Ricciardo three tenths further back. Kimi Raikkonen was fourth for Ferrari ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen sixth. Bottas must record an unlikely victory on Sunday to stand any chance of beating Vettel to second spot in the championship.
Earlier, British driver George Russell, 19, was handed his second practice run-out in as many grands prix by Force India, and he finished 11th – 2.1 sec off Vettel and within one second of Sergio Perez in the sister car.
The Mercedes junior, who won the GP3 championship with a round to spare, is set to make the step up to Formula Two next season and is also in the running for the reserve drive with the British-based Force India team
Perez finished seventh in second practice ahead of team-mate Esteban Ocon, who returned to the Force India car after Russell took his place in the day’s first running.
Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Felipe Massa, who will start the 269th and final race of his Formula One career on Sunday ahead of his impending retirement, finished 11th in the order.