“Mental health is not something that gets talked about in the paddock much,” says Lando Norris. He’s among the first drivers to have really spoken out about it, having made some of his own struggles public in a very eloquent statement in November.
“I don’t know if any other drivers have problems with it at all, but I think the thing which spurred me on most was the number of messages I got on social media through lockdown – and now still – from fans stuck at home suffering from mental health and not being able to go see their friends, to go to school or to live their life normally. People not able to go do their jobs or provide for their families as much as they wanted or needed to.
“I was seeing a lot of comments about such things on Instagram and Twitter and so on. I felt I could happily talk about mental health in a way that will hopefully make it easier for other people, be it those people whose messages I see or people within Formula One or other categories. It’s about making them feel it’s that little bit easier to open up to their friends or family – or whoever they want – that they may be suffering. If I can do it confidently on a big stage, without being afraid, then they should be fine to say it to their mates.”
Lando’s own struggles link with self-imposed pressure from when he first joined the top tier of motorsport. “When I came into Formula One in my first season there was a lot of pressure to perform. As much as everyone always says ‘no pressure’, there are millions of people watching, there are jobs on the line, and I know I need to perform, do a good job and meet expectations.
“I’m performing for a huge company – everyone knows the history of McLaren and what they’ve achieved in the past. And they don’t just take any driver, they take those who they believe are the best, or the best upcoming drivers.
“I put myself under a lot of pressure. If I had a bad weekend - or bad weekends – it would really hit me because it was my first season in F1 and I just wanted to do well. When I didn’t, and I was a little bit off the pace – a few tenths – then I really struggled with that. Especially if there were two weekends in a row of such things – that’s what really hurt me.
“It’s on TV every weekend, and millions of people watch you and judge you on social media and occasionally say nasty things about you. It’s just the way the world works, sometimes, the world isn’t always filled with people who just want to be happy and positive, there are people who just want to take others down for whatever reason. People who think they know what’s going on inside Formula One when they don’t have a Scooby Doo.
“Things like that affect drivers a lot, especially in their early seasons of F1. I just have a really good group of people around me, who are always there for me, trying to help me at the track or when I’m home. I can’t speak for other teams – I’m sure they do certain things, too – but within McLaren it’s great and they help me as much as possible.”
How have the very different pressures of 2020 affected Lando? “I could still do quite a lot of the things that make me happy in lockdown. Doing the virtual races, playing on my simulator, being able to spend time at home playing with my mates online and streaming on Twitch.
“These are things I love doing normally at home so it’s not hit me as hard as other people; 2020 has been alright for me but it’s been a lot tougher for other people and that’s where I feel opening up in the way I have has been beneficial.
“I haven’t done as much gaming lately – when I start driving more at racetracks, I don’t want to spend as much time on my simulator – but I’ve got into golf, it’s something I’ve really started to enjoy. And I can do it everywhere I go, there’s always a golf course nearby. I’ve been playing here in Bahrain and there’s one near my house in the UK, that’s been keeping me focused.
“The main thing at home through lockdown was playing FIFA or Call of Duty online with my mates, normal things that probably a lot of guys my age like doing. I’m not a party guy or someone who goes out every night, I’m much more of a quiet guy who enjoys being at home and playing online with my mates or playing golf.”