‘Ferrari will go all out to sign Lando Norris if Leclerc succeeds Hamilton at Mercedes’

Oliver Harden
Lando Norris wears his race gear in the McLaren garage. Canada, June 2022.

Former Ferrari team manager Peter Windsor is convinced the Scuderia will “go massively all out” to sign Lando Norris if Charles Leclerc is chosen to succeed Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes.

Since making his grand prix debut in 2019, Norris has emerged as one of the most exciting talents in F1 but has cast doubt over his long-term future at McLaren in recent months.

Norris admitted last October that he had held discussions with Red Bull before inking a new long-term contract with McLaren, with the 23-year-old recently telling GQ magazine that as things stand he is unlikely to be in a position to compete for the World Championship until 2025 at the earliest.

Although Hamilton is increasingly likely to agree a contract extension at Mercedes, the identity of the seven-time World Champion’s eventual replacement remains one of the most fascinating debates in F1, with rumours at the end of 2022 indicating Leclerc had reached a pre-contract agreement with Mercedes.

Speaking via his Twitch stream, Windsor has claimed that if Mercedes boss Toto Wolff moves to partner Leclerc with George Russell, Ferrari will turn their attention towards Norris.

He said: “Let’s say Lewis stops at the end of ‘24 – let’s say ’23 and see how we go – I would imagine Toto is going to try and go for Charles Leclerc.

“It would be a mess probably, putting Leclerc with Russell, but if he’s prepared to put Russell with Hamilton, he’s obviously going to be prepared to put him with Charles Leclerc.

“Let’s assume Leclerc went from Ferrari to Mercedes to replace Lewis, which is not a completely stupid assumption, what then would Ferrari do? I think they would go massively all out to get Lando.

“And I think Lando at that point would find it quite hard to say no, putting aside all the contractual stuff because I do think that at that level, they can afford to [buy a driver out of their contract].

“I think Lando has got half a chance at Ferrari, if Leclerc goes somewhere to replace Lewis – which would be good, wouldn’t it?”

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Windsor believes McLaren’s decision to replace Daniel Ricciardo with Oscar Piastri for 2023 comes with the risk of destabilising their relationship with Norris.

But despite his previous dialogue with Red Bull, he feels Norris would be wary of replacing Sergio Perez as team-mate to two-time World Champion Max Verstappen.

He added: “Would Zak [Brown, McLaren chief executive] stand in his way? Lando would probably say to Zak, ‘look, everything’s been great. We had Daniel, everything was fine, and then you put Piastri in the car and it’s a mess now. I didn’t want it, you’ve done it, I’m out of here now.’ That’s probably what he would say.

“From Lando’s point of view, it’s getting to be quite a difficult situation because if there is a Ferrari drive there, that Ferrari drive will be a lot more attractive, for example, than running alongside Max at Red Bull if Perez retired.

“I think if you’re Lando, if you’re going anywhere you go to either Ferrari or Mercedes. You wouldn’t go alongside Max, even though he might get an offer to do that. So Ferrari for Lando would be mega, wouldn’t it? It’d be great for all of us actually, we’d love it.

“I imagine Pierre Gasly is also thinking that way. He’s thinking, ‘there could be a chance at Ferrari and I want to be in that position to get that.’ Those are the two, I think.”

Windsor went on to suggest Norris’s future could be easier to map out if fellow British driver Hamilton were to telegraph his own intentions to the McLaren man.

“Lando will be thinking about what’s going to happen next, for sure,” he said. “And the heads up that Lando needs is from Lewis, isn’t it? He needs Lewis to say, ‘okay, this is the date [I will retire], and then Lando can get to work on what he’s going to do.”

Norris’s next move could conceivably be to any of F1’s top three teams

Often at this stage of an F1 driver’s development, you begin to get a feel for where their destiny lies. Yet despite carrying McLaren through last two seasons, there is a sense that Norris’s future remains unwritten.

All the signs since the start of 2021 suggest we are looking at a potential future World Champion in Norris, but will that necessarily remain the case in a more unforgiving environment, against a more unforgiving team-mate and when a title is actually on the line?

Those doubts over his absolute, ultimate potential – centered more around his temperament than his technique – mean it is still possible to imagine him in the colours of any of the current leading teams in the future.

Both team and driver seem to agree that Norris is the most Red Bull driver that Red Bull never had, but would Verstappen deem him to be more foe than friend? Or would he feel, in those surroundings and when the pressure is on, that he would have Lando covered?

Getting the band back together at Maranello, where he would be reunited with former McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz if Leclerc moves on, would also appeal, as might the notion of Norris dragging Ferrari kicking and screaming into the Gen Z age.

The very thought of a Norris/Russell partnership at Mercedes, meanwhile, would bring back memories of McLaren’s mouthwatering British superteam of Hamilton and Jenson Button between 2010 and 2012.

The possibilities are endless, but one thing we can say with near certainty is that Norris – less than a year after agreeing to stay until the end of 2025 – is rapidly outgrowing his existing environment at McLaren.