Lando Norris a 'franchise' driver for McLaren, says Zak Brown

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Zak Brown has likened McLaren driver Lando Norris to the type of talent NFL teams build their organisation around.

Norris is set to start his fifth season with McLaren, where he is contracted to race until 2025.

This year he will be joined by a rookie teammate, the highly-rated Oscar Piastri, to form what is arguably the most exciting young driver pairing on the grid.

Although Norris has not yet won a race -- he's scored six career podiums and one pole position -- McLaren CEO Brown rates the 23-year-old as one of the grid's elite talents.

"Lando's a franchise driver," Brown told ESPN in a recent interview. "Lando's one of those guys if we put everyone in a dirt buggy and we put all the F1 drivers in a race, he'd be at the front because he's got that kind of natural talent.

"He's a total star. And he's pushing us."

While Norris is still searching for his first win, fellow Brit George Russell claimed a maiden victory for Mercedes at last year's Brazilian Grand Prix.

Norris and Russell have raced together since their junior careers and Brown is sure the Mercedes driver's success will spur Norris on even more in 2023 and beyond.

"He wants to be winning races, I'm sure he knows he can beat George and he has beaten George before... and he goes out and wins. He's going to be anxious people he's raced with don't get too many more wins before he starts getting his."

When asked if he considered Norris in the top tier of current drivers, he replied: "Definitely.

"Unbelievably fast. He pulls it out in qualifying all the time. He can put a lap together. He rarely makes mistakes -- when he does they're very small. It's, he missed the apex, he locked a brake, but you don't see him sticking it in the fence.

"His race craft is really strong now. If I look at year one, he was a little too polite on track at times. Now he's someone you can race hard with and he'll race you hard, he's clean but he's hard, he gets his elbows out. He can manage tyres very well. I think he is as good as anyone on the grid."

Brown has been a believer in Norris' talent for a long time, a belief which was reinforced when he put him alongside Fernando Alonso in the 2018 Daytona 24 Hours for his sports car team, a few months out from the start of Norris' rookie season.

"I think he is as good as anyone on the grid and I've felt that from day one when I put him against Fernando in the 24 Hours of Daytona, foreign car, foreign track.

"I think Fernando is as good as any F1 driver there's every been... and Lando matches him, and depending on what time of day it was, maybe he even got him a little bit, and vice versa.

"You see that natural talent. You do get some drivers who are a one-make discipline and you throw them in a unique situation and they don't get up to speed as quickly."