Lando Norris has been the subject of some head scratching around the F1 paddock due to the long term nature of the contract he signed with McLaren. The British driver agreed a new four year deal worth a reported £80m which will see him remain at the Woking based team until 2026.
Having tasted reasonable success during his second season with the team and failing to win hi maiden grand prix in Russia by the smallest of margins, Norris and McLaren cold only manage one podium during 2022.
McLaren face tough time ahead
Analysis of the recent preseason test would suggest that McLaren has slipped even further down the pecking order than their eventual P5 in the constructors’ title race last year.
No longer will Norris be fighting for ‘best of the rest’ after the top 3 teams, but he and McLaren could well be battling hard to make Q3 and to score minimal points each weekend during the early part of the season.
Andrea Stella McLaren’s team principal confirmed the teams struggles when he revealed, “the objective in terms of aerodynamic efficiency of the car, that’s the one where we are still shy of what was our target.”
Put simply, the car is too draggy – something Mercedes were plagued by last year – and it is not a simple fix.
Lando’s wisdom questioned
Jenson Button recently questioned the wisdom of Norris to have signed such a lengthy contract with a team that has had little success in the past decade. The 49 year old British F1 champion believes Norris at this stage of his career should be in car capable of winning races and even championships.
Norris has responded hitting out at Button in an interview with PA news agency.
”It is not always that simple. The thing with Formula One is that you can be the best driver in the world, and not be in the best car, and that is through no fault of your own.
“Lewis (Hamilton) came into McLaren (in 2007) when they were winning championships and winning races and from the beginning, that makes you look good. If he came into McLaren now he wouldn’t have won a race and he wouldn’t have been anywhere near the driver he is today or achieved what he has today.
Hamilton’s career launched with competitive team
Of course Hamilton’s battle Royal in his rookie year with a reigning world champion team mate in Fernando Alonso launched Lewis’ career with a bang as both McLaren drivers fell short of the drivers’ title won from therm by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by a single point.
Whilst Norris claims he will “just laugh about it [Button’s crticism] and carry on”, from his response it appears Button hit a raw nerve.
“Not everyone knows what goes on behind the scenes and what opportunities there are. It is my choice and I am the one who says ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I could just be here because I am enjoying it more and I like McLaren and it is as simple as that.
Norris courted by F1’s big 3 teams
“I respect people’s opinions – particularly Jenson’s because he has been through a lot of these times – so I take it all on board. I don’t ignore it, I get what he is saying a little bit. But if someone says c— about me, then cool I will laugh about it and move on. Big deal. A few years ago I probably would have taken it a bit more to heart.
“I am doing the best I can, but most people who make these comments are people that don’t just have knowledge of what the facts are. They just come up with an opinion that creates controversy.”
Lando Norris was courted by Formula One’s big three before signing his new long term deal with McLaren last year.
When questioned whether he regretted his decision, Norris was adamant: “No. We saw what was on the table, but I did and I do want to believe in McLaren – the team that gave me the chance in Formula One.
Norris McLaren expectations fanciful
“It would mean more if we eventually do get to win a world championship, rather than just jumping into a car and winning a title, although I would love that, too.”
Norris talking of winning a title with McLaren is fanciful.
Whilst the cost cap should bring the midfield teams closer to F1’s big 3 over time, the infrastructure gap is still large and it will take McLaren some years to close this.
Sky’s Ted Kravitz wrote on a Q&A yesterday that he felt McLaren’s technical team was too lightweight.
Kravitz: McLaren tech team too lightweight
“There have been various rumours about their technical team and how maybe they need to add to it,” Kravitz wrote.
“I think James Key is a good technical director but I think there is a little bit more depth that they could go into.
“I’m not sure he has as many people alongside him, or behind him, or with him that the other teams have kind of grown to, so I think they could certainly do with strengthening the technical group they’ve got at McLaren.
“I think James Key is good and he could do with some more good people alongside him with some fresh views, from other teams perhaps.
F1 recruitment lead times lengthy
If true this does not bode well for Norris in the near future. The lead times to beef up a technical team are long as Aston Martin can testify to.
Dan Fallows, Adrian Newey’s right hand man, was announced by Aston Martin to be joining their team mid-way through the 2021 season.
Due to garden leave and the lead times on car development, the current AMR23 is the Silverstone team’s first car where fallows has had input from day 1.
On a similar basis, McLaren need to be recruiting now for technical personnel that will see the fruits of their labours on the team’s 2025 F1 entry.
Big 3 F1 opportunities yet possible for Norris
Other opportunities with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull may come Norris way before the end of his current deal in 2026. Lewis Hamilton is out of contract this season and Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz are on short term contracts.
Kravitz believes Norris may not have to wait until the end of his current deal before making his next move in Formula One.
“As for Lando, we’ve learnt by now that drivers’ contracts are not worth the paper they’re written on, and absolutely he could move anywhere at any time if the price is right,
“if a top team or a team with a more competitive car comes in for him, as they say in football, and taps him up, then anything’s possible.”
Lando philosophical but downbeat
Norris concludes in somewhat philosophical fashion in the full knowledge if his next 3 years are to be with McLaren it is an uphill struggle he faces.
“For now, it is tough and I would love it if we were ahead of where we are. Last year, there should have been an opportunity for us to take advantage of the new rules and we didn’t and now we have to find that momentum. We are playing catch-up.
“It is hard because I am not the most patient guy and when you get into Formula One you have to learn to deal with that. But I did what is best for me and I have faith in my decision.”
The disappointment Norris feels following the recent pre-season test is tangible in his rhetoric, and facing up to the next three years may look like a hard labour sentence.
However, with the talent Lando possesses buying out his £20m a year contract may be a price Mercedes or others consider well worth paying.