Lando Norris, McLaren, 2023

Norris shows belief in McLaren with early decision to sign new deal

Formula 1

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When Lando Norris signed his last contract extension at McLaren, shortly before the 2022 season began, it was a significant pointer to his rising status at the team.

While his senior team mate Daniel Ricciardo had just ended McLaren’s nine-year wait for a grand prix victory the season before, Norris had clearly been the more accomplished performer over the year. His reward was a contract extension which took him beyond Ricciardo’s, to 2025.

When the under-performing Ricciardo was shown the door a year early, and rookie Oscar Piastri hired to replace him, Norris became the team’s senior driver. But as last season began it would have been understandable if he’d had second thoughts about his decision to commit to them for the long-term.

McLaren’s progress appeared to have stalled. Granted, their third place in the 2020 championship was flattered by a truly awful year for Ferrari, but by 2022 they’d slipped to fifth.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023
Last year started poorly for Norris and McLaren
When last season began, for a second year in a row, McLaren started off on the back foot. At the MCL60’s launch the team admitted elements of its design needed to be corrected.

Although Norris escaped Q1 in the Bahrain opener, unlike his new team mate, it was by the slimmest of margins: He tied Logan Sargeant’s time and only got through at the Williams driver’s expense because he set it first. While Piastri retired early on, Norris suffered an interminable race of six pit stops due to a pneumatic system fault.

Meanwhile Andreas Seidl, who had overseen McLaren’s progress over the previous seasons, had been lured away to join what will become Audi’s F1 team when the next generation of power units arrive in 2026. Andrea Stella had been promoted to the position of team principal for the first time in his career.

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McLaren picked Norris up when he was racing in the junior formulae and brought him into F1. But in March last year, early in his fifth season at the team, he must have wondered whether better options were open to him elsewhere.

Lando Norris, Max Verstappen, Interlagos, 2023
Norris was one of few drivers to challenge Verstappen last year
Was McLaren’s recent progress now in reverse? Should he look to leave an engine customer team for one with a manufacturer relationship, which some expect will offer a significant advantage when the 2026 engine regulations arrive, as was the case for Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes 10 years ago?

In any event, McLaren pulled off one of the most remarkable mid-season recoveries of any team in recent seasons. By their own admission the upgrade they introduced at the Austrian Grand Prix exceeded their expectations and was their biggest single step forward in years.

What’s more, they made another step forward in Singapore. On both occasions Norris, the team’s leading points-scorer, was handed the new parts first. From that pivotal race at the Red Bull Ring he out-scored every other driver by 34 points, with the exception of runaway champion Max Verstappen.

Stella’s leadership and reshuffle of the team’s technical division was vindicated. While James Key departed to join Seidl, Peter Prodromou took charge of the aerodynamic development. McLaren also made senior technical hirings from top rivals in the shape of Rob Marshall from Red Bull and David Sanchez from Ferrari, both of which arrived at the beginning of this year. On top of that, the team’s refurbished wind tunnel came on-stream in the middle of last year, ready to start work on their 2024 car.

Norris’ new deal means McLaren has become the first team to confirm both their drivers for the 2026 season, Piastri having signed his deal last September. But the real significance of Norris’ decision is how early he has committed, extending a deal which still had another two seasons to run. A clear sign McLaren have given him the belief that the early months of 2023 were a temporary setback and they are back on course.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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2 comments on “Norris shows belief in McLaren with early decision to sign new deal”

  1. I wonder whether Formula 1 contracts have release clauses in them, like footballers.

    It would seem like the best of both worlds (for Norris) to have a contract that guaranteed him cash and security, but let a team with deep pockets buy out his contract if they could make better use of him (and he said yes).

    1. They regularly do, yeah.

      Things like “if Ferrari/RB comes along and offers a x100 million contract the driver is free to accept” or “if the team proves not to be competitive (defined in wins, points, championship positions), the driver can cancel the contract, as well as “when the driver achieves less than 50% of the points of their teammate, the team can cancel the contract.

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