How the mutual faith between Norris and McLaren F1 is finally paying off

Norris’ journey with McLaren goes back way further than that, with CEO Zak Brown taking a personal interest in the Briton’s career even before he joined the Woking squad’s young driver programme in 2017, aged 16.

«I regard Lando as a fabulous prospect,» Brown said at the time. «He blew the doors off his rivals in not one but three highly competitive race series last year, then capped that by establishing himself as the clear winner of the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.»

And while some doubted the wisdom of Norris being fast-tracked into a McLaren seat in 2019, at the tender age 18, he quickly showed he belonged, going on to match Carlos Sainz as the team rallied from its disastrous Honda years.
Norris steadily built up a bank of podium finishes, but wins were never on the cards against the might of Mercedes and Red Bull, other than a near-miss at the wet 2021 Russian Grand Prix.

The race went haywire for Norris after a botched strategy call cost him a likely maiden win, and it was long unfairly used as a stick to beat Norris with, allegedly a sign of him buckling under the pressure on those rare occasions when the highest prize came within reach.

Brown and Norris’s team bosses — first Andreas Seidl, then Andrea Stella — consistently waved away any criticism on their golden child, even though a self-critical Norris was often the first to slate himself for various mistakes in qualifying over the past two seasons, singling out his consistency as a key weakness he addressed over the past winter.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Erik Junius

«Lando definitely stands together with them,» Stella explained before the start of this season. «It is the same category of world championship material, the underlying talent, the mindset, the work ethos. It’s all ready to go.»

That’s why McLaren was so adamant to ensure it would complete its shared journey with Norris to the top, handing him generous contract renewals to fend off frequent interest from Red Bull, with his latest extension in January this year tying Norris to the squad «beyond the 2026 season».

Their shared history also explains why Norris’ win in Miami, his 16th podium with the team but arguably his first proper opportunity with a winning car, created such a jolt of electricity through the Hard Rock Stadium paddock. While Daniel Ricciardo’s win in Monza 2021 was equally celebrated by the papaya team, this one ‘hit different’, as the internet saying goes.

«Yes, this feels a bit personal. This feels really special. He’s been with us from day one. He’s had so many second places, it’s good to get this one done,» Brown told broadcaster Viaplay.

While McLaren never doubted its faith in Norris and is starting to repay it, conversely Norris would have had several reasons to look over the fence and deeply consider Christian Horner’s repeat advances.

On F1’s switch to 2022’s ground-effect-based regulations, McLaren missed the mark and lost out to Alpine in the fight for fourth, with Norris taking McLaren’s only podium in Imola.

The start of 2023, however, was McLaren’s true nadir, turning up with a car that it already knew had sent it up the wrong development path.

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team, 1st position, celebrates with his trophy

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team, 1st position, celebrates with his trophy

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Following 2022’s lack of progress, Brown had already appointed Stella to take over from Seidl as team principal, with technical director James Key replaced in March 2023 by a three-pronged leadership structure as it awaited other infrastructure projects coming to fruition.

It was a lean period that seriously challenged Norris’ belief in McLaren being the team that could fulfil his ambitions. And while it was thought unlikely that he would leave the team he called his home for money or other non-sporting reasons, at some point McLaren would have to come good on its on-track promises.

«It’s tough because I’m a competitive guy and I want to win. Of course, at times you think what could you do in order to get into the position earlier,» Norris said at the start of 2023 about exploring his options.

«But also, I’m very comfortable with where I am right now. I have definitely not lost faith in the team that I’m part of and I’m very happy to be part of the journey to hopefully getting back to winning championships and winning races.

«I have the patience to wait out those few more years.»

McLaren’s rapid — if not unprecedented — progress towards the latter half of 2023 vindicated Norris’ belief in Brown and Stella to turn things around, but the prospect of a free Red Bull seat in 2025 again tested their bond last winter.

Still, Norris turned down the best seat in the paddock for 2025 by re-signing in January, giving McLaren another vote of confidence that it can be as well equipped as anyone to come out ahead of the 2026 regulations changes.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

«It’s the thing I’m happiest about with getting the contract out,» Norris said. «They are now even more assured that I’m committed to the team and that I’ve picked McLaren over, Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, whatever team, it could have been.

«Where am I most confident that I can actually achieve a world championship? If you asked me at the beginning of 2023, maybe it wouldn’t have been McLaren.

Read Also:

«But now I think I’m more confident than ever in saying it’s going to be McLaren.”

A landmark Miami win for Norris and McLaren may have come with some caveats, and it is still some way of regularly challenging Red Bull, but it is the latest sign their mutual faith is starting to pay off.

Source link