Ahead of his third season at McLaren, the Brit faced the daunting prospect of a face-off with the incoming Daniel Ricciardo, an accepted member of F1’s elite. He has responded magnificently, and it’s no exaggeration to say that we’re witnessing a coming of age. Like others who have changed teams over the winter, Ricciardo appears to be taking time to adapt to his new car, but he will surely come back at his team-mate over the next few months. Still, all credit to Norris: he has put the Aussie ace firmly in his place so far.
Britain’s other exciting F1 prospect, George Russell, arrives in Portugal to face unwanted heat for the most controversial talking point of the Imola weekend. Colliding with Valtteri Bottas – the man he looks set to either replace or be teamed with at Mercedes next year – was bad enough, whoever was at fault (the stewards deemed it, I believe rightly, a racing incident). What made it worse was Russell’s red-mist response. It’s easy to be critical: he had just stepped out of a 190mph accident involving two big impacts. But running over to Bottas, who was still strapped into his own wreck, and lightly slapping his helmet (albeit in response to a raised middle finger) was a stupid misfire, as was his subsequent claim that the Finn had defended more vigorously specifically as it was Russell chasing him. Not clever, not classy.
It’s no wonder Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said the 23-year-old’s conduct proved that he still has “lots to learn”. Last year’s Sakhir GP was evidence that Russell is a superstar in waiting, but when he gets his chance at the best team on the grid, the ugliness of this Imola memory is something he won’t (and shouldn’t) forget.
New Indycar stars shine
A few hours after the race at Imola, the 2021 Indycar season crackled into life with an incident-packed race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. By the time you read this, the second round on the streets of St Petersburg, Florida, will have followed; but the takeaway from race one was another coming-of-age story, as 24-year-old Alex Palou won impressively in his first race for Chip Ganassi Racing. What stood out was his composure, particularly in the closing stages as Indycar behemoths Will Power and Scott Dixon loomed in his mirrors. A new star is born.