Mika Hakkinen: McLaren’s ‘formidable’ driver pairing shows their ambition

Thomas Maher
McLaren's Lando Norris leads Daniel Ricciardo at the Dutch Grand Prix. Zandvoort, September 2022.

McLaren's Lando Norris leads Daniel Ricciardo at the Dutch Grand Prix. Zandvoort, September 2022.

Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen has singled out McLaren’s 2023 driver line-up for praise, after signing Oscar Piastri.

McLaren will head into 2023 with a new driver joining their line-up, having secured the services of 2021 Formula 2 Champion Oscar Piastri to race alongside Lando Norris.

Having had Daniel Ricciardo on a three-year deal, the final year being 2023, the driver change meant a major financial commitment from McLaren in order to buy the Australian out of his contract.

It also meant having to go to court with Alpine, who took McLaren to the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board (CRB), as the Enstone-based team believed they already had a valid contract with Piastri for next season.

With the legal tussles all cleared up, and clarity regarding their driver line-up for next season, Mika Hakkinen believes McLaren now have one of the most exciting driver pairings on the Formula 1 grid.

“McLaren has such a formidable line-up for next season,” he wrote in his regular column for UniBet.

“Because everyone knows that Lando is very quick and Oscar is an exceptionally talented young driver with a bright future.

Oscar Piastri walking on the grid with headphones around his neck. Imola April 2022.
Alpine reserve driver Oscar Piastri walking on the grid with headphones around his neck. Imola April 2022.

“Oscar has won championships in Formula Renault, Formula 3, and Formula 2 – a perfect record – so it’s right that Zak Brown and Andreas Seidl at McLaren have pushed for him because the team wants both drivers going for it, flat out, every weekend.”

With McLaren fighting hard to rejoin the title fight after more than a decade of being unable to do so, Hakkinen said the signing of Piastri showcases how serious the Woking-based team are in bolstering their strength for the coming years.

“This is a decision which looks to the future,” he said.

“The CRB decision about the contractual position between Alpine, Oscar, and McLaren shows what an important role this organisation has to play.

“They were able to look at the contracts, make a clear decision and end the confusion. Oscar and Landa are a very exciting prospect for 2023 and it shows just how ambitious McLaren is.”

Have McLaren upset the paddock by usurping Alpine?

Having managed to successfully sign Piastri after Alpine dragged their heels locking down their Academy driver, team boss Andreas Seidl was asked during the Dutch Grand Prix weekend whether McLaren swooping to sign another team’s junior driver might upset others in the paddock.

“For me, it doesn’t feel like a victory,” he said. “Oscar was a free agent, that’s why we signed him.

“I don’t also think that has any impact on any of the junior programmes that are around. I think it probably needs more of a review of which contracts are in place when you have junior programmes.”

Seidl pointed to the fact that Norris himself, a product of McLaren’s own junior programme, had been of interest to other teams in the paddock – meaning McLaren were careful to secure his services properly.

“When I look on our side, Lando was obviously a very hot topic as well some years ago, when there was some interest from other teams as well but, in the end, he just couldn’t leave because we had everything in place we needed in order to make sure he had to stay with us.

“In general, I’m a bit surprised about many of the comments that have been made from people that didn’t have the insight on what actually happened because if I just think about myself, in cases like that, if I only have a briefing from one of the parties involved, I will be very careful in making comments.”