Lando Norris is the name on the lips of all motorsport fans after the Formula One season was finally able to get under way last weekend.
The British driver earned his first podium at the Austrian Grand Prix, becoming the third-youngest driver to finish in the top three in Formula One.
Many people believe Norris is a future world champion and all eyes will be on him for the rest of the 2020 campaign, which has been abridged due to the coronavirus crisis.
Norris is a big fan of esports and used the break as a chance to hone his skills behind the wheel of a virtual car. So has that helped him to become one of the hottest talents in Formula One?
Le Mans a future dream for Norris
Norris has made no secret of his desire to experience various aspects of motorsport, including Daytona and the world-famous Le Mans 24 hour race.
Le Mans Esports helped to give Norris an insight into what that experience might be like as various big names from the world of motorsport entered the virtual event last month.
Norris was a part of Team Redline, a British organisation that also signed up fellow Formula One hotshot Max Verstappen, with the team also featuring Atze Kerkhof and Greger Huttu.
While Norris and Verstappen made a strong start to the race, a series of technical errors forced Team Redline to withdraw – before a pause in the action enabled them to rejoin.
The team eventually finished in 25th place, some 17 laps behind the winners, but the experience has done Norris a lot of good according to Eric Bouiller, the director of competition at McLaren when Norris first signed up to the Formula One team.
“He has enormous experience in esports, and I think it is a real added value for racing drivers,” Bouiller said in an interview with Eurosport recently. “He is very mature and I think esports has helped him enormously.
Being so involved in esports has also helped Norris to build his audience online. Even at the age of 20, Norris is one of the most popular Formula One drivers in terms of engagement.
More than two million people combined follow Norris on Instagram or Twitter and he regularly replies to his fans on the platforms too.
“It takes 20 seconds to like a few posts or reply to certain people. It’s a good thing,” Norris says.
Esports to help Norris become the future of Formula One?
Norris’ love of esports gives him a massive fanbase but will he need to refocus on Formula One if he is to achieve his undoubtedly high potential in the sport?
According to communications director of the French Grand Prix Pierre Guyonnet, Norris has everything that the sport is looking for to lead its rejuvenation.
“He was one of the first to promote esports on his social networks, to share his sessions on YouTube and Twitch. He has the pop culture, geek and digital dimension which the new promoters of the championship want to rely on since their arrival in 2017,” he said.
Norris has a virtual win under his belt after he came out on top in an Indycar race at Barber Motorsports Park, while the Briton suffered from connection issues during the Virtual Formula One races from the last few months.
But Norris showed his personality at one of the races by turning his skills to commentary after he was forced to drop out of the action, helping to win him even more fans.
It is up for debate whether or not playing esports has helped to make Norris a better driver on a real life track, but his virtual involvement does not seem to be doing him any harm.
Le Mans Esports might prove a strong option for other drivers in the future as a result.