McLaren rookie Norris - a dream for F1 promoters

Paris (AFP) –


McLaren's teenage rookie Lando Norris is a social media whizz and gaming expert and consequently a dream for Formula One promoters as new American owners bet heavily on web and F1 video games in their promotion of a sport with an ageing fan base.

At 19, the youngest driver on the grid has caught the eye, impressing with a sixth place finish in Bahrain in March in only his second race.

Off the track he has a loyal following of around 350,000 on Instagram where his ability to take himself lightly or compete in virtual F1 races with Red Bull rival Max Verstappen have created quite a buzz.

After his first lap collision at the Chinese Grand Prix when his McLaren went airborne Norris released a video of his taking off into space and eventually swimming with whales.

But this was no departure for Norris, who has a long history of posting photos of himself in unflattering fancy dress, and is a refreshing difference from the bling of Lewis Hamilton or the schmooze of Valtteri Bottas.

- Social network team -

Norris admits he has a social network team, but insists he is the generator of ideas.

"I have a team which looks after my social media. They tell me what I am allowed to post, what I am not allowed to post.

At the same time, they give me ideas. I say to them, like the video I did after China, obviously I am alright at photoshop but not good at the video photoshop, so I asked them to do it, they made the video and I posted it," he told AFP.

Supported by his wealthy investor father Norris also takes time out to interact with fans who contact him or comment online.

"No one else really does that. There are always people who have questions or whatever. It takes 20 seconds to just like some posts and to just say a few words back to some people.

"It's just an easy thing to do, so a good way of just interacting a bit more with the other people, with the fans," says the 2013 world karting champion.

He also admits to some frustrations over the limits put on his online posting of his professional exploits by his team and F1 promoters.

"You can't just go and have fun and do whatever. You have to wait until they've posted your qualifying lap, a crash or whatever before you can then post it which is a bit annoying.

"It's not the end of the world. It's not like super restricted, but it's a little bit."

As with many other young people Norris is an adept of the online gaming aspect of racing.

"I do it for fun mainly but at the same time, some traits I have like when I drive like here this week-end or when I drive an actual car I still have on the sim, so if it's a characteristic of braking too early or braking too late, depending on the track, or just how I am driving generally it's the same on the simulator," he tells AFP from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The exciting new F1 talent also admits that McLaren's professional simulator is on another level.

"So it can help for both situations which is a good thing because at the same time I do it mainly for enjoyment and a lot of fun, because I go to McLaren drive on their simulator to do it professionally."