LONDON (Reuters) - Lando Norris laughs when asked whether he will be avoiding handshakes with McLaren team mate Carlos Sainz as part of anti-coronavirus precautions.
“I think I never shake hands with Carlos anyway,” the 20-year-old Briton told Reuters. “I normally punch him or he punches me.”
Norris has been briefed by McLaren and his trainer on what to watch out for as he heads to Australia for Formula One’s March 15 opener in Melbourne that was thrown into uncertainty by the global spread of the virus.
Details include not holding onto the handrails on airport escalators and in buses taking passengers to planes, and also avoiding shaking hands with people he comes across on his travels.
“Not touching stuff everyone else does. Just normal stuff. No handshaking, more like elbow or air high-fiving,” said Norris.
The youngest driver on the starting grid established a firm and joking friendship with Spaniard Sainz during his rookie season, but that could be tested if podiums are up for grabs.
McLaren finished fourth overall, with Sainz taking the former champions’ first-top three finish since 2014, and are tipped to be at the front of a tight group battling for best of the rest after Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
While Norris scored 49 points, Sainz provided 96 towards McLaren’s total.
The Briton was unlucky, however, as he suffered a number of retirements while well-placed to add significant points and can expect to be more in the mix this time.
Nico Rosberg, the retired world champion who won his title with Mercedes in 2016, saw him as a potential surprise package when compared to 2019.
“He could make a big jump if he gets all the points that he deserves,” the German told Reuters.
Norris said it was nice of Rosberg to say it.
“I think there were a lot of times last year when I had a mechanical failure when I was about to score good points. We had France, Spa, Montreal. There were quite a few. It was a shame but I know this and the team know it,” he added.
“It would be nice if everyone knew because a lot of people just make assumptions on what they see and don’t actually having any idea what’s going on. That’s just how people act and how people are.”
Norris said returning to Australia was a very different feeling to last year when, by his own admission, he was ‘pooping’ himself at the prospect.
“I’m feeling much better, I feel a lot more relaxed and a lot more confident. My head’s in a much better place,” said the driver, who has attracted a strong following at the racetrack and on social media.
“Last year there was just so much anxiety, so many nerves. I just couldn’t enjoy it. Now I feel in a much better place so I look forward to going racing much more,” he said.
Norris said McLaren were “looking reasonably good” in testing and he was optimistic they could do a good job.
“It’s going to be close between all the midfield teams. Racing Point do look very good, straight out of the blocks. The whole midfield including Williams this year look very close.
“So I think we need to work hard and keep our heads down and try to improve. Maybe Racing Point will be slightly towards the head of it, but I hope we can regain control and go from there.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ken Ferris