WOKING, England (Reuters) - British teenager Lando Norris will follow in the footsteps of Lewis Hamilton when he makes his Formula One race debut for McLaren next season, but the team are wary of too many comparisons.
Principal Zak Brown is excited by the 18-year-old’s potential but he also knows under-performing McLaren are a very different team to the one Hamilton joined in 2007 at the age of 22.
It is also fair to say that McLaren’s track record with young prospects in the years since Hamilton left for Mercedes has been — like the team’s recent race performances — unimpressive.
“I think he is a future world champion,” Brown said at the factory on Tuesday, a day after the announcement that Norris would partner Spaniard Carlos Sainz next year, when asked whether he had ‘the next Lewis Hamilton’.
“We don’t want to draw comparisons to other drivers, that’s part of what might put too much pressure on him too quickly,” he added. “Lewis is a unique individual who may go down as the most successful Formula One driver ever.
“Lewis walked in to a lot of testing and an outstanding race car. He (Norris) is arriving to a winning team with a losing car.”
Mexican Sergio Perez, Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen and now Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne — whose place Norris will take — have all been burned by McLaren with the first two reviving their careers elsewhere.
Brown said he hoped to see Vandoorne, who is now a free agent, on the starting grid next season: “If I was Toro Rosso, I’d hire him in a heartbeat,” he said.
McLaren recently brought in former Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran as sporting director, hoping to use his experience to help improve matters.
“One of the reasons we brought Gil de Ferran in was to look at how we handle drivers and young drivers. Having been a former champion I think he understands the dynamics of what gets the most out of a driver,” said Brown.
“I’m confident we’ve got the right people in place to get the most out of our two drivers.”
Brown said Norris, who unlike Hamilton comes from a wealthy background but has also blazed a winning trail through go-karts and junior series, would have been snapped up elsewhere if McLaren had not taken him.
“There were a lot of Formula One teams that wanted him so he’s certainly here on merit,” he said of the Formula Two contender who has been reserve driver this season.
“He just kind of ticked all the boxes, starting at the top. The most important one being is he fast enough?”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis