‘Sunshine & Tan Lines’: F1’s Lando Norris Is Listening to More Than Just Engine Noises
Lando Norris is one of the fastest men on the planet — at least while behind the wheel of McLaren’s MCL60 — but on race days, the one thing the 23-year-old Formula 1 driver is looking to do before lights out is slow himself down.
Serenity is crucial for any motorsport driver, and for Norris, the best way to pull himself into his desired headspace on race day: music.
From country (Austin is one of his favorite races), to low-fi beats, to the “sad songs” he says he listens to more than anything else — all are welcome in Norris’ headphones.
“The main reason I listen to music in the first place is it’s just a mood thing, you know? It’s just to be a little bit giddy, fun, get the energy levels up a little bit, but also just get in my mentality or mood that I like to be in before driving. Which is as relaxed as possible,” he says.
Since joining McLaren in 2018, the British driver has embraced the drama and chaos of motorsports’ most elite grid — and cultivated a devoted following along the way. For Norris, music has been crucial to keeping a level head on and off the track, and has become one of the most seamless ways he’s forged connections with his fans.
According to data from Spotify, searches for Norris’ name spiked over 400 percent on the streaming platform last fall, and nearly 25,000 playlists imagining what it would be like to experience his life have been created by stans around the world. Titles include:
“pov: ur dating lando norris”
“pov: you’re at the club and Lando Norris is the DJ”
“If lando norris was a playlist”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed. On Thursday the driver released his own Spotify playlist, titled “Sunshine & Tan Lines.” The selection — an homage to the Miami Grand Prix — includes many of the tracks he gushed about to Rolling Stone. But the hype around the first of three American races in this year’s Formula 1 season also points to the meteoric rise of the league in the United States.
Formula 1 is going through an undeniable growth spurt. Netflix’s smash hit reality series Drive to Survive has brought legions of new, young, enthusiastic American devotees to a sport that was previously a hallmark of unattainable European elitism, and the sport is undergoing major changes to keep them hooked. McLaren and Norris’ recent racing seasons are featured heavily in the show, granting viewers previously unseen access to the behind the scenes world of Formula 1.
Days before hitting the streets in Florida, Norris dished to Rolling Stone about his race-day playlist, his friendship with Martin Garrix, the American invasion of Formula 1, and that yes, Fernando Alonso would be good enough for Taylor Swift.
Let’s talk a bit about what music does for you on race day: What headspace you’re trying to get into before you get behind the wheel?
It’s a time when you’re thinking about so many things, you know, Sunday [race day] is full of discussions and information and so on. And I’ve logged everything that I need to remember, it’s also nice to try and forget the rest. So then I also listen to music to try and forget things at the same time.
But it’s mainly to make me happy, have a little sing-along, just enjoy myself for a little bit before things get very, very serious.
Any favorite songs? Genres?
I guess I never have just one specific genre or type of song that I listen to. It can easily go from just very chilled low-fi beats to — I never go probably much more crazy than just normal kind of pop and hip-hop. But there is still quite two extremes, in a way, and it’ll be anything in between. And it will change every weekend. Sometimes it will be one, and sometimes will be another. Sometimes I’ll listen to a song and it’s literally the only thing I want to listen to. I’m that kind of guy who listens to it on repeat, literally 100 times, and my trainer hates it.
It’s also a memory thing. A lot of songs I listen to, I listen to once the first time, or because someone tells me to listen to it, but then I’ll listen to it after that because it reminds me of the memory of the situation when I heard it first.
Do you have any songs like that right now?
I guess there are like four songs that I listen to on repeat at the moment. One is “Stumble” by Kraak & Smaak and Parcels, the second is “Chemical” by Post Malone. My third one, which is the newest one, is “Ceilings” by Lizzy McAlpine. I was going to say Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” but I’m not that sad.
People can’t stop cracking jokes about the rumors that Taylor and Fernando Alonso are dating. Tell us Lando, do you think Fernando is good enough for Taylor Swift?
Who are some of the other artists you’ve picked for this playlist?
Where do I start? [Chuckles.] One of the main ones is Burna Boy’s “Last Last,” it’s just a favorite one from my friends that made me listen to it … every time it comes on, whenever we’re together, we always love it and start jumping up and down and have a great time.
“Drive (For Daddy Gene”) by Alan Jackson. This one I think I know every every single lyric to it, bit of a country song. Ironic that it’s “Drive,” but yeah, just the lyrics, and just a chilled song, not too upbeat, that’s one I listen to every single day.
There’s Frankie Stew & Harvey Gunn, a few different ones that they do. Not a lot of people have heard about them I guess, but very low beat, relaxed chilled songs. “Tortoise” is probably the main one I listen to.
I really enjoy Blanco Brown, country also. I like, I guess I’m a bit of a country — I love the country songs too.
Is that because of Daniel Ricciardo?
No no no! No no. Even before he would sing in front of me every single day — a bunch of country songs. I’ve been into it for a long time, to be honest. That’s just the vibe. It always, you know, good fun, puts a smile on your face.
You’ve mentioned music bringing back good memories a couple times, are there any songs that you associate with major milestones in your life? Your career as a driver?
You can go all the way back to the beginning. One of my favorite songs as a kid was “JCB Song,” by Nizlopi — I’m talking 4, 5 years old.
Then Amy Macdonald. My dad and I would listen to her all the time when he took us, my brother, and myself, carting, every single weekend pretty much. Driving hours around the U.K. and so on.
When I entered Formula 1, I was listening a lot at that time to Blanco Brown — a lot of country. You know, big time for me, during the winter when I was training and things like that — I was nervous, anxious, under a lot of pressure. The amount of nerves coming into your first season of Formula 1 are really high, so that was just the kind of guy or playlist I was listening to at the time to calm me down.
So in terms of post-race de-stressing, I have seen that you’re very into mixing your own music — you’re raising your eyebrows at me.
I had a little short span when I kind of got into that stuff, it was mainly just last year really when I got in a lucky position. I got to meet Kygo. He’s a very well-known person I guess.
Then I entered a little bit into that world. I got to meet some others like Marshmello. I got to meet Zedd — I actually did a little late-night session with Zedd in Austin last year on Sunday night.
But actually, it was Martin Garrix. He hates that I would ever blame him for it — I don’t blame him for it. But he was the guy who got me my first DJ set, the Pioneer XDJ or something. He kind of got me into that side of it and at the same time got me into the understanding of how he makes the music. For me, it was pretty incredible to understand that side of it. Formula 1 is the top of racing, and he’s at the top of producing and making music. So it’s just incredible to see and understand someone who’s at the top of — at another level of — something else.
I really got into it for a little bit, but it’s not something I do anymore. Simply my focus is on Formula 1, you know, that’s what I’m here to do and focus on every day that I live at the minute.
I don’t know if you’ve heard the rumors that Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team principal, has a lucky toilet at every race track.
Aside from music, do you have any other superstitions or rituals you do before a race?
I have quite a routine that I stick to. None of it is in a superstitious way. I don’t know, maybe it is? I don’t want to break that routine that I do, especially when we’re just about to get ready to jump in the car. I guess that’s probably one of the main things — I hate to try something new on a Sunday. I want to just have what I know I like.
I would say the one personal thing I do is when I’m on the grid. When we’ve just listened to the national anthem, the first thing I do is I always just touch my Number 4. There are these little plaques on the ground to tell you where you should stand. I always just tap that with my foot before I leave. Then when I walk back, I put on my helmet and put my suit on and everything and I go around my car and just do a little fist bump with all of my team. Just because it’s not just me in the race, it’s everyone in the race. Just something to kind of let them know, as I’m sure they do, but that they’re all involved and with me when I’m going out racing.
Miami is coming up, the first race in the United States this season, what are your thoughts on the massive expansion Formula 1 is having in the U.S. in recent years? There are so many new fans, is it changing the culture?
A hundred percent. Obviously Miami’s a new one for us, but now we’ve got Vegas at the same time, so that’s really a small part of it. But I’ve been to Austin since 2018. I think 2018 was my first time there, and it was a big race, but last year it broke some records for being one of the highest attended Formula 1 races ever.
Seeing the changes, especially America from when Netflix came out and things like that, and how many people you kind of bump into — or fans you meet — who say that they’re into it because of Drive to Survive and the Netflix series and things like that. It’s almost every single one I would say now.
It seems huge. Like genuinely, most people I meet now say something because of Drive to Survive, you know. So it’s definitely played a big part and I think it’s definitely just a good thing for Formula 1, and expanded Formula 1 a lot more. Formula 1 has become a generally known thing, by different people in different sports or just every way of life. So I think for most people, the acknowledgment of Formula 1 is definitely a lot higher. And I guess it’s cool to be part of the sport when it’s kind of going through that period.
In Baku we had the first Sprint race of the season under its new Saturday format. Some fans, and drivers, weren’t in love with the new setup. I’m curious how you felt about it.
Yeah, It’s tough. I would say I preferred it to the original Sprint weekend. I like the fact that the Sprint race is not connected to the main race.
Qualifying is a much bigger challenge for us as drivers, a much bigger challenge for the engineers and the whole team. More stressful, but just a more exciting challenge. It shakes up the order a little bit more — I almost had the chance to be P4 in qualifying on Friday — the order was just a lot more shook up than what it originally would have been. So I think that’s a good thing.
I love the normal format of Formula 1 because that’s why I’d just grown up seeing like, that’s the historic part of Formula 1. But times change at the same time. And the reason we’re doing it is for for fans, and for people watching, that’s the whole reason behind it. It makes people want to watch on Friday because it’s already an exciting qualifying and people love the qualifying, Saturday you’ve got another qualifying and another Sprint race. So there’s something interesting every single day.
So yeah, it’s a tough one, but I prefer it to the original Sprint format, and I’m not the guy who decides whether there’s a Sprint or not. So I prefer it yes, to what we used to have.
On his car troubles during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix …
It was tough about the Saturday [Sprint] qualifying. I used my set of tires on Friday, which means I couldn’t even go out in qualifying on Saturday, for the [third session]. Which I guess it just feels like a silly rule when you’re in my position — the fact I couldn’t even go out — but it is the same rule for everyone. So it’s tough.
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Anything you’re looking forward to in Miami? Big goals?
I mean, finishing the race. Yeah, I didn’t finish it last year, so finishing my race would be a good start.