Norris feels ‘lucky’ to race in Lewis Hamilton-defined era ahead of French GP | Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton defined an era in Formula 1 that will be recognized alongside those of other great drivers, believes McLaren driver Lando Norris. The seven-time champion reaches his 300th race at the French Grand Prix this weekend and Norris acknowledged his achievement but also underlined the importance of Hamilton’s influence in the sport and beyond.

Only five other drivers have reached 300 races and in doing so, Hamilton’s career has spanned 16 seasons since 2007, during which he has already broken a series of records. With seven titles, the 37-year-old equaled Michael Schumacher’s tally but remains alone at the top of the pack with 103 poles and 103 wins.

Norris, 22, is in his fourth F1 season and, speaking at the Paul Ricard circuit, was happy to say he had raced during what he thinks will be known as the Hamilton era, defined by his competition with drivers such as Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen.

“You always hear the stories of when there was Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher and then it was Lewis,” he said. “You hear about the battles he’s had, and these guys have had with [Alain] Prost and [Nigel] Mansel. In 20 or 30 years, it will be the same for Lewis and Seb and Max. Then somewhere there’s my name a little lower… You take it for granted initially because you’re doing your own thing, but in 30 years that’s when you realize you were in kind of lucky to run at that time.

Norris, who showed no fear as he fought Hamilton on the right path, earned his respect. He praised the youngster when he led the Russian GP last year only to lose as rain intervened and Hamilton won his 100th race. He also described him as an excellent driver after riding wheel-to-wheel in Austria.

Behind the scenes, Norris said Hamilton was both popular and likeable.

“He is very well liked,” he said. “He’s a nice person, he always seems to want to help the Brits and the young drivers. He gives advice with little things, asks what I’m planning. He’s been through it all so he knows which teams are trying to take you out and what you should get out of teams. It’s small things but he’s always ready to help. Norris also praised Hamilton’s role in highlighting issues beyond sport.

Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris celebrate their 1-2 at the 2021 Russian Grand Prix. Photograph: Getty Images

“His commitment to equality and diversity and his actions to try to improve both in F1.” He was then a model? “I would say yes, he showed that you can be a seven-time world champion and go do other things in your life,” he said. “It’s an incredible achievement to be in the sport for so long to reach the amount he has. You respect him doing all these other things, a lot of people have criticized him for these things, but it’s not like he has to focus only on F1.”

Perhaps Hamilton’s most singular achievement is winning a race in every season he has entered, a feat unmatched by any other driver, but one that is under threat this year with his Mercedes trailing leaders Red Bull and Ferrari. Although he and Mercedes remain optimistic they could still fight for wins this year.

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Indeed, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc led the timesheets in early practice just nine hundredths behind his title rival, Red Bull’s Verstappen. Hamilton did not take part in the session as Nyck de Vries took his seat as part of the required rookie driver program. In the afternoon, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was in the lead, a tenth ahead of Leclerc, with Verstappen third. Hamilton was fifth with teammate George Russell fourth.

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