Whilst Max Verstappen has run away with the Formula One accolades this season and is set to break a host of records that have stood for decades, the midfield battle amongst the world champions rivals has never been as close or intriguing in living memory.
Aston Martin with their massive wind tunnel time advantage came out of the blocks like an Olympic sprinter at the start of the year. Fernando Alonso claimed a remarkable six podiums in the first eight races of the year but the Silverstone based team has now slipped away possibly due to the FIA’s intervention over their flexi-wing.
McLaren best F1 team since Canada
Mercedes have been the team most consistent behind Red Bull and currently have fifty one point advantage over Aston Martin who are now just five ahead of fourth placed Ferrari.
However the best F1 outfit since the Canadian Grand Prix have been McLaren whose surprise upgrade has seen them score more points in four races than Mercedes, Ferrari or Aston Martin.
The upcoming race this weekend in Zandvoort is massive for McLaren because should they continue to be second best to Red Bull their end of season run in could be spectacular.
With the exception of Singapore where the many slow corners will hurt the MCL60 the other nine circuits remaining look as though they will favour the upgraded papaya liveried cars with Norris and Piastri one of the strongest driver pairings on the grid.
McLaren NOT Red Bull – ‘the place to be’
However, McLaren’s awful start to the year which saw them score just 17 points from eight races became a big talking point in the paddock. The issue was whether the highly rated Lando Norris would jump ship before the end of his contract in 2025 particularly given Red Bull Racing had been brazen about their communications with the McLaren driver.
Yet in the nick of time, McLaren have delivered and Zak Brown is making no hesitation in talking up the team’s future in the hope he can retain his star F1 driver.
Speaking to ESPN Zak argues that McLaren is now the team to be at – and NOT Red Bull Racing.
“We’ve got our team in place. It’s stable,” he said. “We have additional talent coming to be additive to what we currently have. We have all the financial resources we need.”
Stunning F1 talent heads to Woking
McLaren have been on an ambitious recruitment drive since ditching their technical director James Key. Red Bull’s chief engineering officer Rob Marshall is set to join the team for 2022 along with Ferrari’s head vehicle design David Sanchez.
Their aerodynamic team is headed up by Adrian Newey’s ex-right hand man Peter Prodomou and he will be joined by Aston Martin’s chief aerodynamicist Mariano Alperin.
Of course the new people will require some time to bed in as Brown admits. “It’s just going to take a little bit of time so as long as we can show this progress… ’26 is going to be a huge reset for this sport and there’s not going to be any excuses for us.
“We have everything we need from resources, people, two great drivers, all the technology, infrastructure.”
McLaren state of the art F1 wind tunnel
The historic Woking based F1 team have also built a state of the art wind tunnel to replace the ageing facility they’ve been using for some years now.
Yet it is with his drivers where Brown believes the real wins will come with Piastri now performing close to the level of his senior team mate, something Red Bull racing can’t say about their number two driver.
“As long as [Norris] continues to see our pace and development then I think he’ll have all the confidence in the world that this team’s won 20 world championships and have everything they need, look at the momentum,” Brown confidently asserts.
Of course the next big reset in Formula One will be in 2026 when the FIA will introduce a while new set of power unit regulations together with new principals for the design of the cars.
Red Bull 2026 engine questionable
“You look down the grid, there’s as many unknowns about ’26. Red Bull with a new engine, how’s that going to be? They’ve never done that before. There’s all sorts of variables going on there and I think our story is as good as anyone’s.”
Ironically, McLaren’s most recent F1 win was with Daniel Ricciardo in Monza 2021. Yet the team ditched the failing Aussie driver a year before his contract ended to recruit Oscar Piastri form under the nose of the Alpine team.
Now Lando Norris is desperate for his first win in Formula One and Brown believes the team must prove to him they have what it takes.
“I think it’s been massively important for all of us. It shows we can do it,” Brown added.
Brown: “World championship” for Norris with McLaren
“That being said, we haven’t won one with [Norris] yet. He loves McLaren, it’s been his family, so there’s no doubt in my mind is his number one choice is to win a world championship with McLaren. I think the best thing we do to retain him is to demonstrate to him we’re a team capable of doing that.”
“It’s not a case of wooing him or not wooing him, it’s about giving him a car where he can look himself in the mirror and say ‘I think I can win a world championship with this team’.”
These are bold claims by Brown given prior to Ricciardo’s win it was the season finale in Brazil 2021 where Jenson Button claimed the previous win for the British racing team.
Were Red Bull to come knocking for Norris as a replacement for Perez it is inconceivable he would refuse the call regardless of how rosy the future at McLaren is according to Zak Brown.
— FIA (@fia) August 21, 2023