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Opinion
Formula 1 Spanish GP

Ben Hunt: Does Norris need to stop beating himself up about missed F1 opportunities?

OPINION: McLaren's ace failed to convert pole in Formula 1's Spanish Grand Prix and was hard on himself. Does he need a fresh mental approach to become a multiple winner?

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team, 2nd position, waves from the podium

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team, 2nd position, waves from the podium

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

First thing's first: Lando Norris is a fantastic Formula 1 driver and one who I have been privileged to watch develop during his racing career.

He's incredibly down to earth. Funny, engaging, he has cultivated a fanbase that is refreshingly non-toxic on social media, which in the modern world is an achievement in itself.

But there has always been an element to his personality which has often been puzzling, and that's his ability to be so incredibly hard on himself, especially when things don't go to plan.

After missing out on the win in Barcelona, having started on pole, and despite an excellent performance from winner Max Verstappen, Norris clearly blamed himself for not winning.

"Today, we were the quickest car. Fact," he said after the race. "So the team deserved it... I just didn't do a good enough job. Simple as that."

When he was knocked out in Q1 during qualifying for last year's Mexico City Grand Prix, he said: "That one opportunity, that one lap that I was given, I didn't put it together. I had one lap and I didn't do it, so it's on me."

This was especially hard given his session had been marred by an ill-timed yellow flag.

It is noble that he should take responsibility, but this is a reoccurring theme that is especially noticeable now McLaren has pulled itself into contention to fight for race victories.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

He's not alone in this. McLaren has to learn as a team how to cope with the pressure and expectation - and the disappointment when it does not come off.

But this self-critique is actually nothing new. When he made his F1 debut in 2019 in Australia driving a non-competitive McLaren, he started in eighth but finished 12th, despite being incredibly nervous.

Afterwards he said: "The team gave me a good car, with enough pace for me to be in the top 10, but I made a couple of mistakes which cost me any chance of scoring points, so I'm a little disappointed."

Those close to Norris know the trait and give it short shrift. McLaren CEO Zak Brown said after the race in Spain: "He's a bit disappointed as you can understand when you let a win slip away but he's done an unbelievable job, so I'm not going to sit here and beat him up because he didn't get the perfect start."

McLaren's team principal Andrea Stella also elaborated on his driver's self-critique, and added: "The fact that Lando might have been harsh on himself in terms of the responsibility for that, I think is just the style aspect."

He went on to say: "Actually, I like that people look at their own opportunities before thinking that the world plays against you.

"I mean, that's the way you actually work on the variables that you can control. We don't overreact to the style of Lando being tough with himself.

"Certainly, I'm sure this is something that he will keep fine-tuning over the years. But from Lando's point of view, I think he just drove very well the entire weekend.

"If he's upset for a P2, finishing two seconds from Max, then this is really good news for everyone, including Formula 1, because it means that we have races.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team, 2nd position, congratulate each other in Parc Ferme

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team, 2nd position, congratulate each other in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

"And it means that with little details, like defending your pole position, we finally can have some different winners than Max."

Stella is right on all counts. It is good that Norris is upset with only finishing second, for it is a benchmark of just how far the team has come over the past 12 months when a second-place finish would have been celebrated like a victory.

It is also testament that grand prix racing is in good shape as Verstappen is being forced to work harder for his victories. There is a hope that he will soon be coming under intense pressure regularly.

And finally, to Stella's point about the side to Norris's character that he needs to "fine-tune".

If is is a self-motivational technique, similar to how Lewis Hamilton adopts a mindset that he is battling against the odds, then he runs the risk of getting consumed by his own self-criticism as he challenges for more race victories.

Already, as Stella says, those words are beginning to lose their impact within the team. His remark that McLaren staff "don't overreact to the style of Lando being tough with himself" is already indication of that.

Consequently, as he now moves to become a worthy challenger to end Verstappen's dominance, Norris might need to change tack.

By being too hard on himself and having a willingness to accept blame, could that in itself be a factor that explains why he has just one win in 114 GP starts? Would a kinder self-approach bring a new mentality that could prove to be more fruitful?

Perhaps it is time to ease back, to take the pressure off and for once, give himself a break.

Watch: Spanish GP Race Analysis - Why F1's "Fastest Car" Couldn't Beat Verstappen

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