Lando Norris: from 'GG Chat' to 'GG Boys'
Updated: Jan 15, 2021
Hailing from Bristol in the south west of England, 20-year-old McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris has already endured a pretty successful career. An interest in two wheels from a young age soon changed to an interest in four wheels, and at the age of seven, Norris began karting, claiming pole at his first national event. Winning championship after championship promoted Lando swiftly through the ranks, landing himself a seat alongside Carlos Sainz in 2019. His passion for gaming led to the creation of his Twitch channel, something which continues to play an important role in his life and that of his fans.
Before the national lockdown in England in 2020 as a result of COVID-19, Lando boasted a following of 185,000 followers on Twitch, a streaming platform owned by Amazon. With the Formula 1 season cancelled indefinitely, Lando moved to Twitch, to bring entertainment to both himself and fans. A win for all involved. For Norris, streaming on Twitch wasn’t a new thing, but his popularity on the platform sparked the interest for other drivers to join his fun. Lando, George [Russell], Alex [Albon] and Charles [Leclerc] soon became known as the Twitch Boyband to their thousands of followers on Twitch and Twitter. Their popularity grew individually on Twitch, with many fans logging on and subscribing to each driver, if not multiple. The subscription option on Twitch allows users to watch their favourite streamers ad-free, whilst gaining access to exclusive ‘emotes’, plus the ability to use the chat feature when in sub-only mode.
As the world fell into lockdown, Twitch became a vital platform for fans, and not even fans of Formula 1. Essentially, its popularity among F1 fans was a direct result of Lando’s consistent streaming schedule, something then imitated by his fellow drivers. Undoubtedly, they became obsessed. Different people have different opinions on Twitch, but the overwhelming majority hail the platform as being a distraction from the ongoing issues related to the pandemic. From making friends to connecting with drivers and even bringing people closer to Formula 1 as a sport, the importance of Twitch cannot go unnoticed. Lando quickly became known as a ‘full time streamer, part time racing driver’, or, as his Twitch account genuinely states, a ‘TEMPORARAYAYRLY FULL TIME STREAMER, drives in Formula 1 every now and then too…’.
Without question, Lando used Twitch well during lockdown. The importance of coming together as a community during a time in which so many individuals endured new challenges and faced declining mental health, increased on a huge scale. Human interaction has always been important, but with isolation measures and restrictions to keep everyone safe, the power of Twitch became important almost overnight. Dealing with a new way of life wasn’t only difficult for fans of motorsport, but drivers and all those who travel to each race weekend, too. Without the action of live racing on what was supposed to be a record-breaking year with twenty-two Grand Prix weekends, drivers were quick to translate their passion into simple simulator work. This led to multiple different events, which fans tuned into in their thousands. It wasn’t the real thing, but it was close enough. The entertainment and escapism was still there. And, without Lando, would it have really been possible?
NotTheAusGP became the replacement for the Australian race weekend which was cancelled due to COVID and Lando’s stream of the event on Twitch gained seventy thousand viewers, smashing records on the streaming platform. After the success of the first event, in partnership with Veloce Esports, the NotTheGP series became a common event. Running from March until June, Lando took part in the series, alongside fellow members from the grid and other familiar faces. Sadly, due to persistent technological mishaps, Lando finished the series in P8, with Williams’ George Russell taking the top spot after winning the virtual races in Spain, Monaco, Azerbaijan and Canada.
The most iconic moment of lockdown was when long awaited Baldo Norris became a reality. As part of #TwitchStreamAid, Norris raised over $12,000 for the World Health Organisation’s Solidarity Response Fundfor COVID-19. He promised that if he hit the $10k mark in donations from his viewers, he would shave his hair. So, Lando was left to purchase a shaver from Amazon and figure out the best way to use it with only the assistance of his Twitch chat. He did shave his hair, but he didn’t go fully bald. He claimed that he would never go fully bald… looks like we only got Partially-Baldo Norris*. Baldo Norris became the talk of F1. Thirty thousand people tuned in to watch him shave his locks, and also to watch the tears develop in his eyes during the aftermath. Yet, it was all for a good cause.
*For all those concerned, as of November 2020, his hair has fully grown back.
Norris continued raising money for the Solidarity Response Fund, this time as part of another virtual racing event, RaceForTheWorld. The championship, consisting of two races per event across three nights in April, was another fundraising event, which saw Lando join forces with drivers from F1 and other categories, plus other famous faces. Through his streams alone, Lando raised $25,690, with $74,550.72 raised in total throughout the championship. As Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc finished in first place, Lando finished in ninth behind Formula 2 driver, Louis Delétraz and Formula 1 driver, Nicholas Latifi. However, despite the competitive nature of RaceForTheWorld, the most important factor was the amount of money raised for such an important cause. Each competitor was responsible for bringing the community together, yet, through streaming, Lando was able to boost the morale of thousands. He wasn’t the only competitor who streamed, with Albon, Leclerc and Russell only a few of many who took to Twitch to broadcast races from their perspective. Again, this feeling of interaction with drivers allowed fans to engage in something we would never have experienced without the world going into lockdown. In an era where social media is so vital in the lives of million, using Twitch to raise awareness for the cause was a good choice.
Everything has been pretty unusual in 2020. We were faced with something that we’d never experienced in our lifetime. Sport was cancelled, music events were cancelled, people were unable to leave their homes. That’s exactly why social media platforms, including Twitch, and other similar networks like Instagram, have been so important. Providing a service which allows users to stream live and interact with people who could be at their lowest is vital. Lando saw his following on Twitch increase dramatically, which, at the time of writing, is at a very impressive 680,000 (yes, six hundred and eighty thousand). On top of that, Lando broke records and even created new friendships, most notably with Noel Miller of American music duo, Tiny Meat Gang (TMG). Not only did this widen Lando's popularity, it also introduced hundreds of new fans to the world of Formula 1.
Lando’s accessibility on social media platforms is something the sport of Formula 1 has never really seen before. Living in an age where social media presence is important, to help add to the experience of engaging in absolutely anything, whether that be sport or not, definitely has an impact on his following. This openness makes him very popular with younger fans, which comes as no surprise. Accessibility is a bonus. The opportunity to (potentially) interact with your favourite Formula 1 driver is quite an exciting thought, which is reflected in the sheer pace of his Twitch chat. The chaotic aspect of his stream ensures his moderators are worked off of their feet (shout-out to you guys – please know we appreciate it).
When it comes to racing, it’s clear that Lando’s time on the simulator, whether that be at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking or at home and streaming that live on Twitch, has helped improve his skill. Already a talented racer in his rookie season in 2019, Lando finished just outside of the top ten in the standings (P11), with 49 points. Sainz, his team mate, finished in P6 with 96 points. With eleven top ten finishes throughout the 21-race season, his first year in Formula 1 was definitely positive. However, his six DNFs across the year proved that there were areas for improvement, including tyre management. Lando himself said that he didn’t enjoy his first season as much as he could’ve done, ‘because of nerves’. Coming into 2020, he said, ‘now, they are gone’.
The 2020 Formula 1 World Championship season was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the first scheduled race in Australia was cancelled after McLaren pulled out, due to a positive test among the team. The devastation was felt from team members who posted on social media, of course including Lando himself, but through organisers, journalists and fans alike. However, health always comes first. Without the cancellation of the Australian GP and the events which followed, the importance and relevance of Twitch wouldn’t be up for discussion. The importance of human interaction was always taken for granted until this year and we were left to find ways to work around it.
After a record-breaking seven-month gap since the final race of the 2019 season in Abu Dhabi, the 2020 season finally got underway with the opener in Austria. The nerves were apparent, among everyone, but the anticipation to finally go racing was overpowering. Hamilton was given a three-place grid penalty and Lando was promoted from starting fourth on the grid to starting in P3, his best ever starting grid position throughout his Formula 1 career. An important race lies ahead, with plenty of opportunity and the potential for a podium. It wasn’t impossible.
Scenario 7 became a common phrase after the final few laps of the Austrian Grand Prix. Hamilton was handed another penalty, this time a five-second addition to his finishing time after a clash with Red Bull’s Alex Albon, which left Lando in the podium scoring places… potentially. With only two laps to go, Hamilton was 6.5 seconds ahead, of course, with his five second penalty already announced. At this point, it wasn’t enough to bring Lando up to P3, for the final step on the podium. After crossing the line, Lando’s race engineer, Will Joseph, told him, “I think that’s a podium, mate”, explaining how the gap between his driver and Hamilton was 4.8 seconds. So, along with a spot on the podium and snatching fifteen Championship points, Norris was handed another point for the DHL Fastest Lap of 1:07.475. For a midfield team, the result was exceptionally positive for the start of the season. It only brought a good omen to the team and their loyal fans.
Lando’s first podium hasn’t been his only success so far this season. He’s made it through to every Q3 session except one (in Mugello, at the Tuscan GP), with nine top ten finishes in thirteen races. Compared to six last year, Norris has only had one DNF, which came at the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in Germany. Prior to the Turkish GP (the time of writing), Lando is seventh in the Driver Standings, with 69 points. His team mate Carlos Sainz is slowly catching up to him, one position behind with 65 points. In regards to the Constructors’ Standings, there is a tight battle in the midfield, with Renault, McLaren and Racing Point all within one point of each other (Renault – 135, McLaren and Racing Point – 134). With only four fixtures left, the battle is on for that all important third place in the Constructors’.
However, despite the battle for the Constructors’ position, when looking at Lando’s season so far, it’s filled with positives. The improvement from last year is clear, and he’s no longer a rookie. Whether that improvement has derived from how close he’s been working with the team, during the 2019-20 winter break, throughout lockdown on the simulator or during the season itself, it’s very obviously there. With more consistent Qualifying results and strong finishes on a Sunday, plus more points with four races to go than his overall points finish last year, there’s definitely more positives than negatives to look at with Lando in 2020. The announcement confirming his 2021 season with McLaren came in May, shortly after team mate Sainz announced his move to Ferrari. With current Renault driver, Daniel Ricciardo, joining Lando at McLaren next year, plus Mercedes becoming their engine supplier until 2024 (at least), things are definitely looking good. The hope to become Champion, both as a driver and as a team, is always there, but it won’t be possible straight away.
Who’s to say what the future might hold? Might we see Lando Norris as Formula 1 World Champion one day?
Photo credit: Lando Norris, McLarenF1, TeamL4NDO, Formula 1 via Getty Images