Lando Norris has established himself as one of Formula 1’s most impressive front-runners – but it was a legend on two wheels who first ignited his passion for racing. Here, McLaren ace Norris explains why nine-time motorcycle world champion Valentino Rossi is his icon…
Initially what got me into Valentino was just his colours. I was probably only five-years-old at the time, and when you’re at that age it’s hard to like anything for a reason other than it looked cool!
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He had the blue-and-white Yamaha, with his fluorescent yellow race gear, and he just looked like a cool guy: in all the interviews, with the Italian accent, the celebrations, everything he did basically.
That was when I was five – I didn’t even know what a go-kart was until I was seven – and that’s when I had a quad bike, and then I had a motorcross bike. It definitely got me interested in motorsport – I remember watching stuff on what was Motors TV in the UK – and I loved motorbikes.
Valentino had some amazing battles and rivalries – the two best ones I can remember were when he battled Casey Stoner at Laguna Seca and overtook on the dirt at the corkscrew.
The other one was him and Jorge Lorenzo, battling at Barcelona, and then Valentino overtook at the last corner… that was like one of the coolest moments ever!
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When I started competing myself Valentino inspired my helmet design. I gave it to a helmet designer and I was like ‘I love Rossi!’ and he came up with one that was black chrome and orange. Rossi had ‘the sun and the moon,’ mine was like ‘the sun and the sun,’ and it has been adapted and evolved a bit over the years.
I never got to go to a MotoGP event when I was growing up but after I became a Formula 1 driver I was lucky enough to go to the British Motorcycle Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2021.
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It’s weird, I still remember myself being so young, watching Valentino on TV, and there he was competing – a bit like in Formula 1 when I was watching Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso racing and now I’m on the same grid as them and racing against them.
Meeting Valentino was really cool, I was mainly there just to meet him, and it was an honour. He was the guy I looked up to and who got me into racing in the first place: who knows, maybe if I didn’t follow Valentino, and then get into motorbikes, maybe I wouldn’t have got into motorsport, or maybe that interest would have been delayed.
Meeting my hero
We’ve stayed in touch since that meeting; I have a friend, Thierry Vermeulen, who races in the GT World Challenge Europe – which is the series that Valentino has competed in since switching to motorsport full-time in 2022.
Valentino texted me congratulations after the podium in Singapore, and we still talk now and then.
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We’d love to do something together, it’s just obviously when I’m busy then he’s not busy, and then when I’m not busy he’s busy! It’s pretty hard to do anything now but definitely in the future we’d love to do something together.
I’ve been able to learn from Valentino too – to have fun, and enjoy it. He’s always been the kind of guy who enjoys everything he does, and the more passionate he is about something the more he enjoys it.
It’s an easy thing to say, ‘just have fun,’ but there’s certain things you can do in sport to make it more enjoyable and have fun – and he definitely did that in his career.