McLaren’s Lando Norris has said he was torn between sticking with his team or whether to seek out a new environment to chase success.
Norris may be on a long-term deal with McLaren, but has admitted that the form of his team has led to questions over his own future as seats open up at other teams.
Having come up through junior categories with McLaren backing, before making his debut with the team as a wet-behind-the-ears teenager in 2019, Norris has grown into one of the most reputable drivers on the grid – albeit one that is yet to cash in on his potential with some race wins or a championship challenge.
Key to keeping Lando Norris is ‘a good car’
While all appeared rosy between Norris and McLaren up until the end of 2022 as McLaren had the car to challenge for strong points positions, the Woking-based team took a significant step backward at the start of 2023.
Top 10 finishes all but vanished as McLaren struggled to figure out their car – the drivers forced to tread water as the team patiently waited for the parts to come through for a huge concept change.
That concept change was rolled out in recent races and the driver’s patience has been rewarded – Norris scoring two podiums in the last three races as the MCL60 has proven the best car behind Red Bull at Silverstone and Budapest.
With seats potentially opening up at Red Bull, Mercedes, and Ferrari in the coming months and years, team CEO Zak Brown recently said there’s a very simple way to retain Norris’ services at Woking as he will inevitably have his head turned by offers elsewhere.
“I think the way you keep him is to give him a good race car,” Brown told Sky Sports F1 after the Hungarian Grand Prix.
“And as long as we can give him a good race car, well he loves the environment, he loves the team. He’s been on this journey [with us].
“Obviously we were all a bit frustrated at the start of the year but now he has two second-place finishes. I think as long as we keep doing that, then he’ll stick around.”
Asked about Brown’s comments during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, Norris said that his loyalty remains with McLaren.
“Of course. I want to win races with McLaren. I want to win in papaya, I want to win championships,” he told Sky F1.
“I want to achieve my success and I want to achieve my goals with McLaren. That’s been my target since I’ve come here, since I’ve entered Formula 1 with this team.
“I guess I’m a loyal guy from that point of view, that I’ve joined the team, they gave me a chance in Formula 1 and I want to deliver and achieve success for them.
“And I think it’s a cooler story at the same time, to go from where we were a few years ago – a team that was really struggling – to fighting back and being that first team to really come back from a long way and fight for championships and wins. I think it would be just a cool story to look back on in 10, 20 years.”
But Norris admitted that his loyalty was far less likely to be tested with a team that is firing on all cylinders, and not the one that made the big misstep at the beginning of the year.
“In the back of my mind, there’s that impatient game of, ‘do I stick it out for another few years, or is it time to look at something different?'” he said.
“But the more we achieve things as we have done over the past few weeks, the more I’m very confident with the decision I made to stay until 2025, and the more confident I am that we can achieve our goals together in the future.”
Lando Norris full of praise for huge turnaround
Having scored second place in both the British and Hungarian Grands Prix before a less assured showing at Spa as McLaren’s fears about struggling at a low-drag circuit proved well-founded, Norris was asked about which podium had been more surprising.
“To go into Silverstone expecting just to beat Ferrari, to beat Mercedes, to beat Aston Martin, it was definitely not our expectation to beat one of the Red Bulls,” he said, having beaten Sergio Perez’s RB19.
“So I guess it was a little bit of a surprise, but a very good surprise, and especially because it was my home Grand Prix. But then to do it also in Budapest, a track which just isn’t as high-speed – we know our strengths are really in the high-speed, and kind of medium-speed.
“Slow-speed… that’s where we lose most of our time to the top teams, still to Red Bull, to Mercedes, Ferrari, Aston… we’re still losing in the slow-speed corners.
“Even if you go back to Budapest, or Silverstone, we’re not far off being one of the worst in low-speed corners. It’s a bad thing, but it’s also a good thing that, if we can just improve on that a little bit, it can really help us progress even more – but the medium and high speed is close to being one of the best on the grid and not far off Red Bull.
“That’s what we proved a little bit in Austria, definitely in Silverstone, and a little bit of Budapest. So all positive things.
“But if we can improve the small weaknesses that we have, then I think I can be a lot more confident again. I would say it’s one of the biggest turnarounds in the middle of a season for many, many years in Formula 1 and that’s a very, very good thing to have done.”