A lap with 2019 McLaren hopeful Lando Norris

Hockenheim hot lap with Lando Norris (2:20)

ESPN's Laurence Edmondson takes a hot lap with McLaren test and reserve driver Lando Norris around the Hockenheim circuit. (2:20)

The idea was simple: A chance to interview McLaren's up-and-coming junior driver as he completed a lap of the Hockenheim grand prix circuit. Lando Norris would throw a McLaren 570s through the corners and it would be my job to throw questions at him.

Needless to say, Norris held up his side of the bargain better than I did and, the moment the car broke traction on the exit of Turn 2, my composure went with it. Thankfully, I also had some time booked with Norris in the calmer atmosphere of the McLaren motorhome the next day. The 18-year-old has only been in single seater racing since 2015, yet he is already on the radar of most F1 fans and a familiar face in the paddock.

With a 2019 race drive with McLaren a very serious possibility, it seemed like a good chance to catch up on Norris' story so far.

"I was pretty terrible back then"

Norris' introduction to motorsport was similar to most young drivers. His first experience behind the wheel of a go-kart came aged seven when his dad took him and his brother, Oliver, to the Clay Pigeon kart track in Dorchester. However, unlike a lot of kids starting out in karting, his parents only had a passing interest in motorsport. He wasn't pushed by his father into the sport, but among his other hobbies at that young age -- including horse riding, quad biking and motorbikes -- karting was arguably the safest.

"My dad kind of liked racing and motorsports, but wasn't a big fan, it wasn't like he watched every race or whatever," Norris explained. "I used to watch MotoGP quite a bit, I liked MotoGP. I had a motorbike before I had a go-kart and before I had a motorbike I had a quad bike but I was too dangerous, and before I did quad biking I did horse riding, so it's been a long journey.

"I was more into motorbikes and MotoGP [at that age], and my hero was Valentino Rossi so I guess that got me into motorsport. I can't remember what made my dad take us karting for the first time, I can't remember really. I was into motorsport by then and I knew everything, and every driver, it was around 2009, 2008. That's when I first properly knew about Formula One. Those were the days."

Norris now attends the majority of F1 races with McLaren, but back then he was still a "fanboy outside the gates". His first live experience of F1 came on a practice day at Silverstone and the sound, smell and sights from that trip helped crystallise his ambition.

"I was at Silverstone and I just went as a fan, spectator, just to go and get some signatures off some Formula One drivers," he said. "I did start watching on TV and then when I started karting and then got into motorsports in general, watched more F1 on TV and then that's when I became more of a fan of Formula One and wanted to get into F1."

His first race victory in go-karting was memorable but, by his own admission, not because of his driving.

"I was on my novice plates and it was at Buckmore Park. So in cadets you have Honda cadet and Comer cadet, two different kinds of engines, and I was, for some reason, the only Comer cadet so I obviously won a race, I won my own class!

"I didn't win overall because I was pretty terrible back then, but I was the only guy and because no one for some reason in Comer cadets raced at Buckmore, because it was a double-header and it was near Easter, I won the whole championship!

"We used to have to hire a trailer and take the go-karts in the back. We were complete rookies, my brother and me, we just had no clue!"

It's hard to believe Norris was ever "pretty terrible" given his success in junior categories since then, but he insists it was the case.

"No, I genuinely wasn't that good! I guess maybe I was better than most guys who first start off but it wasn't like I've always been this good or as good as I am now, winning everything, because I had no clue how to drive. When I first started, I just drove around my home with some cones out and just had some fun.

"I definitely wasn't anything special when I first started but I think I adapted quite quickly into racing and it became a bit better slowly. All of cadets, the first four years of karting, I only won one proper race, one! Which was the British Open Championship at PFI and I started 21st and I won. It started to rain half way through and I was good on the slicks in the wet but that was my only proper win that I ever had in cadets.

"Then I went into MiniMax and that is when I became ... not much better, but that's when the rhythm started off, going into one class winning, going into the next class winning. I am kind of still on that rhythm up until now. I was nothing special when I started but I think every time I've taken a step up I've just adapted well to the next category."

In 2014 his karting success culminated with victory at the world championships, providing the perfect launch pad for a career in single seaters. But it also marked the end of his brother's hopes of becoming a professional racing driver as, like so many other young karters, Oliver's results could no longer justify the cost of competing at the top level.

"He still really enjoys racing and motorsport," Norris explains. "We raced together for almost ten years, which is cool obviously. He was always in the category above so I could never really compare directly.

"Both of our final races in karting were at the world championships and we both stopped at the same time. I moved onto cars and he went to work with my dad."

One step away from F1

From that point onwards Norris rocketed through the junior ranks, winning titles in British Formula 4, Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula 3 over consecutive seasons. In 2016 he won the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award and, following a test in an F1 car, a series of meetings with Zak Brown finally led to him being signed up as a McLaren young driver in 2017. His first contact with the team had actually occured several years earlier when, through a different McLaren junior programme, he tried the Lewis Hamilton approach of talking straight to Ron Dennis about his plans to enter F1.

"The first time I spoke to Ron, it was a long time ago. I must have been, having a guess, about 12 and McLaren had a junior programme and I joined that for a bit. We had some other drivers, so that was when I first got to go to McLaren, which was awesome.

"But then I stepped away from that and got a manager before I went into MiniMax. He had much more of an idea already, especially from a karting side, what a good plan was, what teams to go with, what category to go into next and they basically planned everything and all the way to where I am now."

With the European F3 title secure and support from an F1 team behind him, Norris moved to F2 this year with the Carlin team. After taking a victory on his debut at the opening round in Bahrain, it looked as though Norris would enjoy another year of winning from the front but he has not won another race in the series since.

He has openly admitted that the 2018 F2 season is the worst of his career, although the unreliability of the car and trouble with race starts up and down the grid means the championship standings don't tell the true story of the season for any of the drivers taking part. Nevertheless, Norris is not looking for excuses and admits he must shoulder some of the blame.

"I think the issues haven't helped me in any way, but there's some mistakes which I have made. Mistakes in Formula 2, which are small mistakes, are much more costly than they ever were in Formula 3 or [Formula] Renault.

"Mainly with the tyres -- managing the tyres -- it's something I never had to do it really in F3, maybe a tiny bit in Formula Renault, never in F4. To be honest I've made a similar amount of mistakes in Formula 3 and Formula Renault, small ones but they've never been quite as costly as what they are in Formula 2 because the field is much closer, it's much more difficult so when something does happen it makes a big difference.

"Just having a couple of small wheelspins at the Red Bull Ring in race two took a bit of rubber off my rear tyres, made the temperatures go up which made the car slide more which made the temperatures go up which made the car slide more and it's just a spiral downhill, and then it put me out of the points from whatever position I was in. To be honest there hasn't been loads of mistakes by myself it's just that I haven't done as good of a job as I wanted to."

Managing Pirelli's tyres -- be it in F1 or F2 -- is a common challenge for drivers coming straight out of F3. But does it mean Norris would be better suited to another year in F2 rather than rush into the spotlight of F1 and suffer the same issues?

"Well I think in Formula One the tyres aren't as bad as Formula 2," Norris responds. "I think the tyres are more tricky to get right in Formula 2 than Formula One or let's say preserve the tyres throughout the whole race. I think it's a similar thing in Formula One but I think we have to do a lot more saving than F1 drivers have to do mainly because they sometimes do two pit stops and there's much more scope when to do pit stops whereas our tyres last... super-softs five laps, in F1 they last 10, 15 and it varies massively on track to track.

"I think in F2 the tyres are much harder to manage than Formula One although it's hard to say as I haven't done loads of long stints in Formula One but when I have, Abu Dhabi or Barcelona, I have not had to concentrate so much on saving the tyres as I do in F2. If you have a couple of wheel spins it's not the end of the world, a couple of wheel spins in F2 it's the end of the world."

What now for Norris?

Since our conversation in Germany, the driver market for 2019 has taken several unexpected turns. Fernando Alonso has committed to leaving McLaren at the end of the year and Carlos Sainz has been appointed as his successor. That, in theory, puts Norris in a straight fight with current McLaren race driver Stoffel Vandoorne for the remaining seat at the team, but an announcement is not expected until later in the year.

A switch to Toro Rosso has been talked about for 2019, but McLaren's reluctance to agree to a deal earlier this year suggests it wants to keep Norris' future firmly at Woking. Sat in the Hockenheim paddock a little under a month ago, Norris was taking nothing for granted.

"There's so many variables which can happen, a bit of it depends on me and how good of a job I can do in Formula 2 and the tests in Formula One but the rest of it I have got no control over so it's not up to me," he said. "I think it's literally I have to wait and see what happens, and then we move forward. Until let's say another three or four races in F2, so we've almost completed our season and then let's probably when I will know a lot more of what might happen."