The one team that could tempt Lando Norris to leave McLaren

Jamie Woodhouse
Lando Norris, McLaren, looking upwards. Baku, April 2023.

While doors at the established top teams seem unlikely to open for Lando Norris, F1 presenter Tom Clarkson threw Audi into the mix.

Norris is currently working through the long-term McLaren contract which he penned ahead of the 2022 campaign, committing him until the end of 2025 at which stage McLaren are intent on returning to the conversation for wins and titles.

There has been speculation though regarding whether Norris will see out that contract, considering McLaren’s slide away from that picture at the front of the F1 grid, rather than moving towards it.

McLaren are pretty certain he is going nowhere in the coming years, though on-track there is much room for improvement, the team having openly admitted that they were behind target with their 2023 challenger, the MCL60, with only 14 points having been across the opening five rounds.

And when Norris’ situation was discussed on the F1 Nation podcast, journalist Natalie Pinkham brought up the subject of loyalty, believing there is “something to be said on sticking with the team, growing with the team”.

However, podcast host Clarkson pointed out that while Pinkham is sure that “McLaren will come good”, he feels Norris now needs to start seeing this “serious progress” from the team rather than just hearing about it.

McLaren recently underwent a reshuffle of its technical staff structure with this aim in mind, though with ex-Ferrari engineer David Sanchez not joining until January 2024, Clarkson believes that a change of fortunes for McLaren will take time.

“His contract is until the end of 2025,” said Clarkson of Norris. “I think he needs to see some serious progress from McLaren.

“Now actually, I get your point, loyalty. And McLaren does have everything it needs. It’s got a good budget, it’s got a new wind tunnel coming on stream, it’s got good engineers, but you need to start seeing progress.

“David Sanchez, who’s coming to take over the design of the car, doesn’t start until January 2024, so we’re only going to see the fruits of his labours in 2025 realistically, Lando’s last year at the team.

“The other question is okay, let’s say he loses patience, and he thinks ‘I’ve got to go elsewhere to win races and win the World Championship’, where does he go?”

The most obvious answers, Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, were all doors which Pinkham cannot foresee opening for Norris any time soon.

“Well, that was my point. I mean, what are his options?” Pinkham stated.

“Red Bull? No, Ferrari? Can’t see it happening. Mercedes? Potentially after Lewis [Hamilton] retires, but we don’t know when that will be. I mean, ultimately, he has said he wants to stay there until he wins an eighth World title.

“I don’t know what his options are that would potentially be better than where he is right now.”

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Maybe then Norris would need a completely new option to be put on the table to tempt him away from McLaren. Audi, perhaps?

The German manufacturer have bought a minority stake in Sauber Motorsport as they prepare to partner with the brand as of 2026, at which point the Sauber-operated team currently known as Alfa Romeo, will become the Audi works team using their power unit.

The goal is for Audi to be challenging at the front three years into their Formula 1 journey, and with Andreas Seidl there as Sauber CEO, who worked with Norris as McLaren team principal, Clarkson can see the appeal.

The question though is whether Norris would be in any better situation if he were to jump into another project for the future.

“There is one team we haven’t mentioned that I think could potentially be attractive to him, and that is Audi,” said Clarkson.

“So in 2026, the year after his contract. Andreas Seidl, who is the boss there now, is a huge Lando Norris fan. Audi is going to have all the resource that it needs to win in Formula 1.

“But again, are they going to be ready on day one? Highly unlikely. So if Lando goes there in 2026, is it going to be at least another three years before he’s in a position to win? In which case he’s better off staying where he is? So it’s a really tricky situation.”

Norris has scored 10 of McLaren’s 14 points so far in F1 2023, placing him P9 in the Drivers’ Championship.