How Twitch helped Lando Norris find his voice

play
Hero mechanics fix Verstappen's car in 20 minutes (1:10)

Laurence Edmondson is impressed at the speed Red Bull fixed Max Verstappen's Red Bull, a 90-minute fix in 20 minutes. (1:10)

The Lando Norris of 2020 is a world away from the Lando Norris who first appeared in a Formula One paddock a few years ago.

When a teenage Norris was being billed as McLaren's next big thing in 2017 and 2018, he was in the paddock in in a testing capacity ahead of his elevation to the F1 team in 2019. His first F1 appearance was in Hungary in 2017 and the young 17-year-old who faced the media afterwards was shy, awkward and looked like he wanted to be anywhere else -- typical of most teenagers in that kind of environment.

Fast forward three years and Norris is an F1 sophomore riding the wave of a stunning start to the season. He is clearly more confident in himself in those situations off track, while on track we have seen his best performances yet, a maiden F1 podium finish at the Austrian Grand Prix followed by a brilliant charge through the field to fifth at the Styrian Grand Prix.

The season finally got going after months of uncertainty in lockdown, during which time Norris became the unofficial face of F1 and esports, breaking numerous records on streaming platform Twitch.

When asked if streaming on Twitch had helped him build his confidence in the months away from F1, Norris told ESPN: "I would say so.

"It's something I've been doing for a few years now but also it's grown a lot more since getting into Formula One. Especially over the last few months [during the pandemic], I did it pretty much the first day I got back from Australia.

"At one point I had 110,000 viewers... even when I had much less, 10,000 for example, you don't want to say anything wrong or make yourself look like an idiot. You have to have manners and so on.

"Although I maybe don't see it straight away, I think naturally in doing so and speaking with people and answering questions and so on, even though it's through a computer, there's still a natural change in my demeanour in how I act and how mature I am."

Norris clearly felt empowered by Twitch. In the early stages of lockdown he cut his hair to a short buzzcut for charity - it was meant to be shaved completely, but the McLaren driver did not have the right razor.

"I'm not gonna do it again!" he says with a grin, his hair back to pre-lockdown levels.

The act was watched by over 35,000 people as part of Twitch's 'Stream Aid', which raised a total of $2.7million for coronavirus charities.

It was one of the many ways Norris saw the impact his Twitch stream could have on people. Not only did it give him the chance to talk about Black Lives Matter -- Norris has said he lost followers on Twitch after pledging his support to the anti-racism cause and encouraging people to educate themselves on the issue -- but also interact with fans who needed some emotional support during the lockdown period.

"I've started to understand the impact I can have on not just things I play normally but also messages I can get out -- whether it's racism or Black Lives Matter, or raising money for different charities.

"Shaving my hair off when it reached a goal... things like that are ways I can help and use that following I have and those people and those fans and supporters to help more disadvantaged people or people in different situations.

"Over the past years I've learnt and got more confident for sure."

Norris the racing driver

It would be unfair to say Norris intends to keep gaming with the same intensity now F1 is back. Things have changed since lockdown ended and the increased maturity he mentioned is clear to see.

While it was a hobby in lockdown, Norris is aware just how quickly gaming could become a distraction now the season is back up and running, something he admits was an issue at times in his 2019 rookie season.

"The key going into this year has been finding the right mix... I need to focus on the job of driving the car, and not just driving the car, being in the factory, having meetings, discussing things, doing things on the simulator, trying to exploit every different area. That takes a lot of time, it's not just arriving at the track and driving a race car. There's a lot more to it.

"Some of the time [last year] when I could have been doing stuff like that I was at home, playing games and streaming. I've streamed more than ever recently, but only because of the situation I've been in.

"But coming up to and around race weekends and so on, I've been streaming less and I've been focused on what I need to be focused on. It's finding the balance and mixture of that and the pressure of this job and knowing I still have to take it seriously.

"It takes time, that's why it's not just changing [overnight], but it's me maturing and understanding what I need to be doing more. Also my team around me, my engineers at McLaren, are trying to get this mix right of work ethic, time put into what I need to be spending time on, verses time at home and enjoying myself and still having a life or just doing things I love away from a race track."

Last-Lap Lando

Norris' development off track has clearly had an impact on how he goes about the day to day of being an F1 driver.

When asked if there is a different expectation of him now he's no longer a rookie, he replies: "There's changes for sure, but I don't think it's just because I've had a first two weekends or come into the year with more confidence

"A lot of change has been through discussions and self-inflicted change. In order to get the most out of myself and my engineers and performance engineer is learning how to get the best out of each other.

"I don't think people have changed because they suddenly see I can do a better job as I believe they've had faith in my from the beginning."

Norris vindicated that faith in the opening two races, showing an obvious development with his racecraft. In the penultimate race of his rookie season, McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz claimed a podium at the Brazilian Grand Prix by putting his car in the right position to capitalise on late-race drama.

Third and fifth at Austria's back-to-back was beyond McLaren's wildest dreams. The results were built on patience and letting the race come to him before some late heroics -- he set a stunning fastest lap to finish within five seconds of Lewis Hamilton in Austria, enough to jump above the world champion after a time penalty, while he stormed from seventh to fifth on the closing laps of the Styrian GP.

For Norris, both were evidence of how much he has developed since the end of his rookie campaign, when the Englishman often found himself second-guessing key race decisions on Sundays.

"I never came into the season expecting something like it," he said of the first two races. "The positive thing about that is having the results that we got through maximising every other opportunity that we could, being in the right place at the right time. I was never in this position last year -- that was Carlos in Brazil, for example, being there when it mattered and when it counted and so on.

"The racing side of things was not my strong point, it wasn't the thing I went into Sunday knowing 'I've got to do this, I've got to do this, and everything will be fine'. That was the thing I worked on most the whole winter.

"[Last year] I probably would have been more keen to push and try and do better at the start of the race, not see the big picture. Being in the moment of 'I need to catch this guy what's my next thing?' Do I save my tyres? Do I go to a two-stop? Thinking about these other things which last year I wouldn't have done, wouldn't have thought what to do in this scenario or maximising a scenario I'm in."

"I've done a better much job in waiting, coming through making the moves I need to, having the aggression I need. That was nice for me to see on the confidence side of things.

"That's all good but at the same time it doesn't mean my race is perfect and it's sorted and I can just focus on other things. There's lots of other things I can do better and try and improve on."

As good as his start was, Norris has a more measured outlook on what's to come, which is another example of how he has changed his approach and the way he views the serious business of being an F1 driver. This was apparent in something he said at the end of our interview, conducted just days before he would record a more modest 13th-place finish at the Hungarian Grand Prix

"A race can very easily make you look bad, sometimes through no fault of your own. Being in the wrong position at the wrong time or something, things can very easily go wrong for you.

"So I'm not taking for granted the start I had. I need to be maximising everything when I can."