Rumours that Lando Norris may leave McLaren for another team have resulted in one former F1 driver giving him a word of warning…
The British driver is on a long-term contract with the Woking-based team that should see him stay with the team until 2025, with McLaren CEO Zak Brown making it clear that there are no escape clauses in his deal.
But that hasn’t stopped rumours from escalating throughout this year that Norris could be a target for Red Bull as a possible replacement for Sergio Perez, rumours that have been additionally fuelled recently as Max Verstappen indicated he’d be willing to race alongside the British driver if he ever decided to make the switch to Red Bull.
David Kennedy: It could be foolish of Lando Norris to walk away from McLaren
While things looked bleak for McLaren and Norris at the start of this year as the MCL60 had a troubled start to life with little to boast about in terms of speed, the team affected a remarkable turnaround with a major concept change introduced to the car mid-season.
At several of the past handful of races, McLaren have been Red Bull’s closest competitor – albeit struggled to keep up at low-drag spec circuits like Spa-Francorchamps and Monza.
In with a genuine chance of podium finishes as 2023 enters its closing stages, former Le Mans winner and F1 racer David Kennedy believes Norris’ timing would be off if he decided to cut and run at this point – even for the likes of Red Bull.
“You’re looking at one of the biggest teams that there are,” the Irishman told PlanetF1.com in an exclusive interview.
“A driver also will get a comfort factor for the people that work around him. If he skips the team now… he knows they’re on the ascendancy, they know they’re moving forward. It’s very difficult for a driver and I think it’s sometimes a bit foolish to think that you can step out of that.”
Kennedy pointed to the example of poor timing on the part of Fernando Alonso, the two-time World Champion who became well-known for jumping ship to different teams at inopportune moments in their respective competitiveness.
“We’ve seen [Fernando] Alonso make that mistake so many times – step out when a team had begun to come around,” he said.
“He’d have been many times a World Champion if he stuck with his guns and let what was happening develop around him.”
With McLaren having failed to compete for a championship for over a decade, and yet to do so at all under the leadership of Zak Brown, Kennedy believes the final building blocks are now in place to allow the former behemoth of F1 to become a genuine challenger in the sport once again.
“Given their budget, their background, their experience, and their success, I think it has taken them an inordinately long time to get there,” he said.
“There have been some really poor strategic decisions, which have been really not sensible in any shape or form. Now, they seem to have sort of cleared some of that debris of those decisions and have got the pieces in place to be able to make that car fly.
“Clearly, it’s self-evident now, it’s at the sharp end. If they keep doing what they’re doing, there’s no reason why they can’t be a winner and make that final step.”
David Kennedy: Oscar Piastri is a work in progress
While Norris remains one of F1’s most highly-rated drivers in what has been largely a tough season, the British driver has had to contend with a new teammate in the form of Australian racer Oscar Piastri.
The 2021 Formula 2 Champion has been a hugely impressive figure in his first year in the sport, and has compared respectably to Norris throughout the season.
But Kennedy believes Piastri is still somewhat rough around the edges, and needs a little more time to unlock his true potential – but admitted that there is plenty of potential on tap.
“It’s excellent. It’s really top standard,” he said.
“He has a great pedigree, and what he’s done previously has been outstanding. In some way, if you’re looking for the next Senna, Schumacher, Verstappen, you want to see the stardust straightaway.
“He is more like a work in progress, rather than a bolt of lightning. Look at when Hamilton came on board, he instantly went to put the car alongside Alonso, a World Champion, when they sat alongside each other. It was phenomenal. So you’re looking for that kind of stardust performance. Piastri is a work in progress, and it’s really respectable.”