Karun Chandhok questions Lando Norris’ long-term McLaren deal, ‘a barrier to release’

Jamie Woodhouse
Lando Norris serious look as he side eyes. Bahrain February 2023

Lando Norris has been linked to Red Bull and Mercedes.

Ex-F1 driver Karun Chandhok says the long-term Lando Norris deal was a “great bit of negotiation” from McLaren, but questions its benefit for the driver.

McLaren have not been able to call themselves a true challenger at the front of the Formula 1 grid since the early 2010s, but their ambition to get back there, plus their investment in the necessary facility upgrades, has Norris believing that they will come good on that ambition.

Norris is regarded as arguably the brightest young prospect on the grid outside of the front-running teams, but has tied his future to McLaren long-term by penning a deal that runs until the end of 2025.

It was concerning when McLaren, after speaking of failing to hit targets with their F1 2023 challenger, the MCL60, were at the Bahrain season opener indeed adrift of Red Bull, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes, even then not looking like a clear leader of the midfield pack.

Norris ultimately was forced to retire due to an engine pneumatics issue that he had battled for much of the race, having been running on the brink of the points before that issue set in.

McLaren’s lacklustre start has seen Norris linked with the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari, as well as suggestions that Red Bull could renew their past interest.

However, while a Formula 1 contract is never bulletproof, Chandhok says McLaren have positioned themselves in a way to ensure that Norris has a sizeable “barrier” in the way on any potential early exit.

“Lando is committed to McLaren long term but I wasn’t convinced when he signed,” Chandhok told Give Me Sport.

“I think it’s the right thing for McLaren because he’s the best driver on the grid outside the top three teams, so I think that’s a great bit of negotiation by Zak Brown [McLaren Racing CEO] and the team but [for Lando], I’m not sure it’s the best thing for him to have committed for so long, because you need to have options.

“Of course, everyone can be bought out of contracts but it just makes it a barrier to be released on your contract.”

Chandhok says it is simply a case of seeing how the cards fall now in terms of Norris’ future, but suspects it will be Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton who starts any domino effect.

Hamilton is into the last year of his Mercedes deal, and despite stating his intention to continue in Formula 1 for many years to come, Mercedes’ poor start to 2023 and his evident frustration surrounding that situation has cast doubts over his future with the team.

“We’ve just got to see what the market does,” Chandhok stated. “What Lewis does will dictate so much in the market.”

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Lando Norris is a great long-term investment

While any fee which a team would need to pay to pry Norris away from McLaren anytime soon would be pretty eye-watering, it is hard to argue that they wouldn’t be getting great value for money.

Norris is already somewhat of a Formula 1 veteran as he gets stuck into his fifth Formula 1 season, yet he is still only 23.

And he has been tested against some very strong team-mates, having held his own from the start against Carlos Sainz, now of Ferrari, while he firmly had the beating of eight-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo, who was shown the McLaren exit door a year before his contract was up.

So, any of the top teams who potentially had an eye on Norris, could be very confident that they were bringing in a driver who could excel at the front of the grid, probably for another 10 years and beyond.

We also saw in Russia 2021 that Norris can handle some of the pressure at the front, his relative inexperience of that scenario perhaps costing him there with the wrong tyre call that saw his hopes of a first win fall apart when the rain came pouring down.