'If in doubt, go flat out': Fearless new kids on grid

'If in doubt, go flat out': Fearless new kids on grid

McLaren driver Lando Norris. Picture credit: McLaren Racing

Four drivers are embarking on their debut seasons in Formula One at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the weekend. AFP Sport runs you through the paddock's bright young talents:

Aged 19, British driver Lando Norris will be the youngest in the sport. The exciting talent has been on McLaren's books for two years and was their test driver in 2018.

He brings a wealth of experience of pole positions and hard-fought racing from his junior career and will not be fazed by what lies ahead.

Norris began his racing life at the age of seven and, supported by his wealthy investor father, won the world karting championship in 2013. He moved through the ranks all the way up to Formula Two last year where he finished runner-up to fellow rookie Briton George Russell.

Known for his modest charm away from the track, he has developed a loyal following on social media and knows he faces his biggest challenge so far at a team rebuilding after years of under-performance.

"I've spent a lot of time over the winter to try and prepare myself in every way for this moment and for the races," said Norris. "But there's some things you can't learn until you're on track and in that situation."

Another highly-rated and tenacious Briton, Russell held off Norris to clinch the Formula Two championship last year after storming to the GP3 crown in 2017.

His motto is "If in doubt, go flat out", a winning mentality that has earned him a crack at motorsport's pinnacle with a team desperately needing inspiration after a downward spiral.

Russell's career began in humble beginnings in karting but his talent quickly became clear to see as he swooped to become British Open champion in 2009.

His potential to become one of the elite was spotted early by Mercedes who signed him to their junior programme in 2017, where he banked more experience with practice sessions for Force India.

Described as "humble and intelligent", the 21-year-old said: "I know what I'm capable of and I know what I'm dreaming about, but it's important not to get carried away."

Alexander Albon, the laid back Thai-British driver, 22, is a great friend of Russell's and has followed him and Norris into Formula One from feeder series Formula Two.

A stylish overtaker, he was a former teammate at ART of Charles Leclerc while in GP3, finishing second to the now Ferrari driver in the 2016 season.

Born in London to a British father and Thai mother, he is only the second racer representing Thailand in Formula One history after Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, or "B Bira", in the 1950s.

He was signed to the Red Bull junior team in 2012 aged just 12 and has gradually climbed the ladder, finishing third in Formula Two last year behind Russell and Norris. He replaces Pierre Gasly, who has stepped up to Red Bull.

"Obviously, I think it's going to be a steep learning curve," he said recently. "I'll try not to put too much pressure on myself and give it everything I have from day one. It's my opportunity this year to show everyone what I've got."

The oldest of the rookie drivers at 25, Antonio Giovinazzi is not completely new to the grid: he replaced Pascal Wehrlein twice when he was injured at Sauber in 2017, earning a strong 12th place finish in Australia but crashing in both qualifying and the race in China.

He showcased his natural racing acumen during a blistering 2016 Formula Two campaign where he finished a close runner-up to teammate Pierre Gasly, now at Red Bull.

Graduating through the Ferrari junior system, Giovinazzi became a reserve driver for the Italian team in 2017 and 2018, performing test and simulator duties to gain more experience.

"I am more ready (for F1) than back in 2016 or 2017, so I have to say thanks to Ferrari for those two years," he said. "This is my first season in my own car, in a good team, with a teammate (Kimi Raikkonen) I can learn a lot from."

He is the first Italian driver in F1 since Jarno Trulli retired in 2011.

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