As Norris Struggles in Formula One, Alonso Provides a Template

As Norris Struggles in Formula One, Alonso Provides a Template

Even before the hit Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive debuted in 2019, Formula One driver Lando Norris was hailed as the next big thing. But here we are, four years later, with Norris finishing 17th in the Bahrain Grand Prix, topping only a trio of drivers — including Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc — who failed to take the checkered flag.

Norris apologists abound, however. It’s not him, it’s his team. McLaren is where drivers go to be forgotten, but Daniel Gustafsson, Kambi’s lead F1 analyst, still remembers.

“He will be [the next big thing], but as it looks now, he will not get anywhere in the McLaren,” Gustafsson said of Norris. “They don’t expect to be much better than this. It’s tough for him, but remember that [George] Russell was in an even worse position, and I rate Lando better than Russell. He will do big things when he gets in a better car.

“He’s still very good, but the car looked hopeless. Lando Norris is, for me, the next big guy, and he will get a better car. He’s a super nice guy and a very good driver.”

Norris is only 23, so he has time to live up to Gustafsson’s expectations. But in terms of the current season, Norris is an extreme longshot to do much of anything in a field where only four teams — Red Bull (-500 to win the constructors title at BetRivers), Ferrari (7/1), Mercedes (9/1), and Aston Martin (10/1) — look truly competitive.

After just one race (Bahrain) in 2023, Red Bull and Max Verstappen are heavy favorites to defend their constructor and driver championships. Verstappen, who romped to victory in Bahrain, is a -200 favorite at BetRivers to win the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this coming weekend, and he’s a -335 favorite to win the drivers championship. At -500, his team, Red Bull, is an even heavier favorite to win the constructors title.

So dominant is the forecast for Verstappen that BetRivers has assigned him odds of -121 to win either seven or eight of the year’s first 10 races — and he’s at 3/1 to win nine or all 10. The latter odds are better than those that his teammate, Sergio Perez, has of winning in Saudi Arabia (4/1).

In dire need of updates

The biggest surprise in Bahrain, according to Gustafsson, was how poorly Mercedes fared. Lewis Hamilton, widely regarded as the best F1 driver of all time, finished fifth, while his teammate, George Russell, finished seventh. In between them was Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, whose father owns the team. If you think nepotism is dead in professional sports, you’re wrong.

“I don’t even think he’s a very good driver. He’s very reckless,” Gustafsson said of Stroll. “I think it was very good that [Fernando] Alonso finished third — otherwise, he would not be too nice to Stroll.”

Alonso, who endured a hairy crash with an incautious Stroll last year, finished third for Aston in Bahrain on the strength of some exceptional passes and looks poised for a return to the circuit’s elite tier. Should he continue to excel, whether to hang on to his inferior teammate could create a rather awkward father-son decision in the Stroll family this coming offseason, although Gustafsson said “it looks like [Lawrence Stroll] believes in his son.”

Now 41, Alonso was a onetime wunderkind, winning the F1 drivers championship in 2005 and 2006 with Renault. (See? There’s hope for Lando yet.) Coming off his podium finish in Bahrain, Alonso is at 9/1 to win the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, -125 to finish in the top three, and a 10/1 futures bet to win the drivers championship.

As for the constructors championship, it seems crazy to say it after just one race, but Red Bull’s coronation seems like a foregone conclusion.

“George Russell said the other day that he expected Red Bull to win every race this year,” said Gustafsson. “Some of the teams desperately need some nice updates on their cars. The reliability for Ferrari is crucial to finish second in the constructors.”

Photo: Bryn Lennon/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Author: Ryan Gonzales