McLaren’s revival made Lando Norris contract decision an easy choice

Sam Cooper
Lando Norris waves in front of the Red Bull.

Lando Norris has chosen to stay put and ignore speculation about a move to Red Bull.

There are plenty of similarities that can be made of Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris.

Both are in their mid-20s, both are deemed future World Champions and now both have committed their long-term future to their respective teams.

But if Leclerc’s choice was seen as somewhat of a gamble, Norris’ on the other hand was an easy bet.

This time last season, you would have been hard-pressed to find someone backing McLaren over Ferrari and it has been more than one year of wondering why Norris, one of the sport’s brightest young talents, chose to tie himself down with a three-year extension signed in 2022.
2009 World Champion Jenson Button was one of those voices.

“I was surprised when he signed a long-term deal,” Button said on Sky Sports.

“Because in this sport, you don’t know who’s at the front and you need to be in a winning car. Your talent is not enough to bring a car to the front.

“You know, you can help them develop, but you need to be in a competitive car that can win races and McLaren haven’t given them that.”

But, aside from Max Verstappen and Red Bull, there has been no better reward for faith than what McLaren have given to Norris.

The upgraded MCL60 was poles apart from the car that first rolled out in Bahrain. Backmarkers had become podium contenders and in it, Norris drove to his most successful season yet.

Although that first win still eludes him, a checkpoint that will surely be reached in 2024, Norris’ performances put him firmly at the top of the driver market with Red Bull reportedly keen to bring him over to partner his friend Verstappen.

But within the walls of their Woking base, the McLaren team would have been telling Norris just what they had planned.

Structurally, the McLaren team looks very different now than it did this time last year. James Key’s technical director role has been split into three with two staff from Red Bull and Ferrari hired. The wind tunnel is no longer hundreds of miles away in Cologne but instead on site at the MTC and Oscar Piastri is not an unproven rookie anymore. recommends

F1 2023: Head-to-head qualifying and race stats between team-mates

F1 stats: Which drivers have scored the most points without winning a race?

Looking at the available evidence, it is enough to suggest that McLaren will be P2 in the coming year and could even take a run at the dominant Red Bull so the decision for Norris to extend will have been a lot easier now than it was the past.

Norris’ commitment to McLaren is similar to Leclerc at Ferrari. Both are the faces of their team and have grown up with them, making it very hard to pull them away.

But while Leclerc never really looked like leaving, reports around Norris would suggest there is no smoke without fire. The Red Bull move would have been tempting – a chance to drive the quickest car on the grid, a chance to drive with Verstappen and a chance to get some silverware under his belt.

There were also drawbacks though. Great drivers shape the team around them. Look at Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, Michael Schumacher at Ferrari and now Verstappen at Red Bull. A driver as good as Norris would have backed himself to beat the Dutchman but he would also have had to accept the odds were against him.

At McLaren it is different. Norris is the star of the team and for the last few years has been performing above what was expected of him. He saw off Daniel Ricciardo with relative ease and even if Piastri provided a tougher competition, Norris ended the season 108 points ahead.

Norris has time on his side and the potential to mould the McLaren team around him and could do what no driver since Hamilton has done, bring titles back to the MTC.

It is rare a driver is presented with an opportunity to achieve legendary status within a team like McLaren. Senna, Prost, Lauda, Hamilton. Norris now has the car and the team he needs to add his name to McLaren’s elite.

Read more: Four reasons why McLaren look best placed to bring fight to Red Bull