Australian GP: Lando Norris sizzles in debut F1 qualifying

Lando Norris might have impressed at the Australian GP but a spectacular debut F1 race is not always a clear indicator of future success. In fact, the last two decades have shown drivers’ careers go both ways.

Lando Norris is the only teenager in Formula One this season.   -  Getty Images

On Saturday, debutant Lando Norris – the youngest driver in Formula One this year at just 19 – put his McLaren in eighth place on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix, far ahead of his teammate, Carlos Sainz, who’s into his fifth season of F1. Sainz could only manage 18th in Melbourne, ahead of the two Williams cars, which are far off the pace of any other team at the start of the 2019 season.

Norris’ qualifying effort, for a team that has struggled for the last few years, is nothing short of spectacular. But whether that will translate into a points finish on Sunday – or into a successful career – is anybody’s call.

Debut race no harbinger of success

Since 1996, Albert Park has been witness to some stunning debuts. After all, it has opened the F1 season every year since then except 2006 and 2010. And McLaren has been the pick of the grid, with the two best debuts this century coming for the Woking outfit.

Lewis Hamilton in 2007 and Kevin Magnussen seven years later both qualified fourth on debut, the former finishing the race third and the latter second. But that’s the only commonality to their careers. The Brit is now a five-time world champion while the Dane has not been on the podium since.

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Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton (R) celebrate their podium positions after the 2007 Australian GP.   -  Getty Images

 

In the same period, Sauber – notable for picking young talent, especially under founder and former team principal Peter Sauber – has been another team to see its drivers shine on debut in Melbourne.

READ | Hamilton takes pole at Australian Grand Prix, equals Senna and Schumacher feat

Kimi Raikkonen dragged his Sauber to fifth place after qualifying 13th in 2001, and Felipe Nasr finished fifth in 2015 after starting 10th. Raikkonen moves back to Sauber this year, his career having seen one world title in 2007 plus a two-year sabbatical from the sport, while Nasr spent only two middling years in the sport.

A third team linked to two great debuts but wildly divergent careers since 1996 is Toro Rosso. Sebastian Vettel finished the 2007 US Grand Prix in eighth after qualifying 10th for BMW Sauber. He immediately moved to Toro Rosso, where he took the now-broken record for youngest race winner.

In Melbourne in 2014, Daniil Kvyat qualified eighth and finished ninth on debut for Toro Rosso, breaking Vettel’s record for youngest points scorer in F1. The Russian was promoted to Red Bull Racing – both teams are owned by the Austrian beverage maker – the next year, but he was unceremoniously relegated to Toro Rosso early in the 2016 season in favour of Max Verstappen. At the end of the 2017 season, he was out of a drive, and he returns to the grid this season with the team he debuted for.

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Mark Webber (R) celebrates with Minardi team boss Paul Stoddart after his 5th place finish in the 2002 Australian GP.   -  Mark Thompson/ALLSPORT

 

Memorable Melbourne

In 2002, Mark Webber remarkably finished fifth for minnow Minardi after starting 18th in Melbourne. Webber placed mid-field for most of his career and only won races after moving to Red Bull, where he mostly played second fiddle to four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

But the best was the first time Albert Park hosted the Australian GP in 1996: Jacques Villeneuve took pole position on debut and finished second to teammate Damon Hill only because he suffered technical problems during the race.