Karun Chandhok believes Lando Norris “has got to be the number one pick” for Mercedes when Lewis Hamilton finally opts to hang up his helmet.
But the problem Toto Wolff faces is what if Hamilton decides this year’s championship will be his last, as it will be costly breaking Norris’ McLaren contract.
Although Hamilton has made it clear he’s likely to extend his Mercedes stay beyond this season, one of the big questions is who will replace him when the seven-time World Champion calls time.
While some pundits such as Peter Windsor reckon Charles Leclerc is leading the running with Norris to replace him at Ferrari, Chandhok says the McLaren driver is in fact the one Mercedes will target.
Speaking about Norris’ options should McLaren fail to fire this season, the former F1 driver turned pundit told Autosport: “Where’s he going to go is the question.
“The reality is I can’t see him going to Red Bull to be a number two to Max, Ferrari have their two drivers locked out.
“So his options are to go to Mercedes when Lewis Hamilton stops because George [Russell] isn’t going anywhere.
“He can stay at McLaren I think until that happens basically. I think McLaren can safely hold onto him until that happens.
“But, let’s say we get to the end of this year and Lewis suddenly decides ‘I’ve had enough, I’m gone’.
“Then I feel like it’s going to be quite a complicated process because no doubt about it Lando has got to the number one pick, he’s got to Mercedes’ number one pick to replace Lewis.”
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But that will be a costly endeavour for Mercedes as Norris has signed with McLaren through to the end of 2025.
It will, Chandhok points out, be “tricky” negotiating the Briton’s exit.
“Brilliant negotiation by Zak and the team to lock him in,” he said. “We all know that people can be bought out of contracts and they get bought out all the time.
“Look at Gasly. It happens all the time but it’s going to cost more. It’s going to be tricky.”
Oscar Piastri is in a ‘win-win like Russell was last year’
This season Norris has a new team-mate in rookie driver Oscar Piastri, the Aussie replacing his compatriot Daniel Ricciardo.
Piastri arrived on the grid on the back of the McLaren versus Alpine contract saga, the latter claiming Piastri would race for them this season only for the reserve driver to deny that.
Alpine took the matter to F1’s Contract Recognition Board, who ruled Piastri’s only valid contract for 2023 was with McLaren.
Alpine were left smarting, and have all too often made their feelings about the situation known.
But no matter their thoughts on the subject, Piastri will be a McLaren Formula 1 driver this season and much is expected of the 21-year-old.
“All the money is on Piastri,” Chandhok replied when asked for his pick for the best rookie of 2023.
“I can’t think of a rookie who has come in with as much hype and expectation since Lewis Hamilton. I really can’t.
“The way he’s arrived. You have two major teams arguing over his services, you’ve got team bosses from the two biggest teams weighing in on the argument. And he’s not even done a lap yet!”
He also applauded the 2021 Formula 2 champion for embracing the challenge that is taking on Norris at his McLaren team.
“I think it’s a really brave move,” he said. “I quite like the fact he’s gone for an ambitious and brave move by walking into the lions’ den by going up against an in-form Lando Norris in a car that’s clearly a bit tricky to drive.
“So it’s a brave move and cheers for that boldness.”
But however that intra-team battle plays out, Piastri can only be a winner because if he loses, he lost to Norris, and if he wins, he beat Norris.
Chandhok likened it to Russell versus Hamilton last season.
“Piastri is in a win-win like George was last year,” he said.