Max Verstappen snubbed as former world champion picks 2021 most improved driver

Top Gear: Lando Norris performs donuts after completing lap

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Former F1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi believes McLaren star Lando Norris – and not Max Verstappen – is the most-improved driver of the season. Norris is currently fifth in the Drivers’ Championship with 151 points.

The Brit almost single-handedly led McLaren to third-place in the constructors’ standings earlier in the season as teammate Daniel Ricciardo struggled to adjust after moving from Renault. 

The 22-year-old took advantage of changing weather conditions to secure the first pole position of his career in Sochi. 

He briefly lost the lead to former teammate Carlos Sainz but overtook the Ferrari on lap 13.

Norris led for the majority of the race until heavy rain sent the Brit off the track, allowing Lewis Hamilton to take the chequered flag on wet-weather tyres.

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Despite Verstappen flying and taking the championship fight to seven-time world champion Hamilton, two-time world champion Fittipaldi believes Norris is the most improved driver of 2021.

“That is a difficult question,” the 1972 champion with Lotus and 1974 champion with McLaren told vegasinsider. “Who is the most improved driver of the season? In view it is Lando, surprising everybody with the McLaren. 

“He has really made a big improvement this year.”

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McLaren are currently embroiled in a battle with bitter rivals Ferrari to finish third in the constructors’ standings. 

At the Brazilian Grand Prix, Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished fifth and sixth respectively while Norris suffered a puncture on the opening lap after butchering an overtake of the Spaniard.

The famous Italian side opened up a sizeable gap over their rivals as Norris finished tenth and Ricciardo was forced to retire due to engine failure.

Ferrari’s 18-point haul in Brazil means they now hold a 31.5-point advantage over McLaren with three races to go in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

Regardless, Fittipaldi is confident his former team have been the most improved team over the course of the season – and hopes they will consistently compete for wins in 2022.

“McLaren is the most improved team and has the most improved driver,” he added. “Their facilities in England are very, very impressive. They have the history, the experience and the right people. 

“With all this effort, the results will come for sure.”

Formula 1 travels to the Losail Circuit for the Qatar Grand Prix on November 21, with Red Bull star Verstappen holding a 14-point lead over Mercedes’ Hamilton.

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