Yes, he did brilliantly to pass Max Verstappen off the line and subsequently hold off seven-times champion Lewis Hamilton in that thrilling race climax. Yet 45.5 per cent of the F1.com vote, 33 per cent more than second placed Hamilton, was telling, not only a reflection of the quality of his drive to second at Silverstone but a predisposition towards a driver who is easy to like.
Norris is in some senses a retro figure, connecting effortlessly to the canon of drivers past, his easy charm and boy band looks aligned to a blistering talent worn lightly. His Instagram account, a fair measure of a driver’s popularity, has more than 6m followers, 30 per cent greater than fellow Brit George Russell at Mercedes and 60 per cent more than Alex Albon at Williams.
Only Hamilton, Verstappen and Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, the latter not by much, have greater social media reach, which explains to a degree why McLaren were so keen to tie him to a long-term contract. At 23, the youngest driver in the history of Formula One has already contested 92 grands prix and, as Silverstone demonstrated, he is operating at a level capable of delivering wins were Verstappen to have a bad day.
Alongside Leclerc, Russell, Albon and McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri, Norris is in the vanguard of Gen Z drivers transforming the F1 landscape in the Netflix age. No need to compel this crew to engage with the audience. Social media ready and tech savvy they are culturally plugged into the world the F1 elders understand only as an abstraction.
Norris filmed his own entry into the circuit on Thursday, his affinity with the flag-waving crowd obvious, his willingness to engage refreshing, and keenly appreciated by the kids draped over the fences hoping for a glimpse of the heroes. A nod too to Leclerc in this regard. Another driver of immense appeal, Leclerc darted back to sign autographs when leaving the paddock after the race when it would have been easier to continue to his car with his partner and bury the disappointment of another flat weekend at Ferrari.
There was no shortage of excitement in this sport mad nation of ours on Sunday, yet Norris carved out a significant space for himself in the imagination of all courtesy of an epic duel with Hamilton that felt as weighty as anything we saw at Headingley and Wimbledon.
Norris began the season dead last in Bahrain. A pneumatic pressure leak led to Norris pitting six times during the race. He was a study in dejection in the paddock, confused and embarrassed.
It was in Austria that the upgrades pinned to Norris’s car broke through allowing him to qualify and finish fourth. Seven days later at a circuit perfectly suited to a car the feeds on long straights and fast corners, Norris qualified and finished second on merit, with his teammate Piastri denied a podium only by the safety car, which gave Hamilton a leg up from fifth to third.
There was a measured quality about the team’s work in qualifying, where in varied conditions Norris was just two tenths off pole after going quickest in sectors one and two, before Verstappen nailed the final sector. In the race Verstappen was routed off the line by Norris, who comfortably kept the double world champion behind him until the fifth lap, at which point the season’s dominant car found the sweet spot and powered away.
Norris warned against getting carried away. The performance at Silverstone was track specific, the revamped McLaren suited to high speed, low drag circuit configurations. Hungary next week, with its mix of low to medium speed corners, will be a stiffer challenge.
What Silverstone provided was stirring evidence of the qualities of a driver ready to accept a leading role, who winks at opportunity and carries the audience with him. You had better get that contract signed sharpish, Lewis, or risk losing more than second place to Norris.