In an era where seats are notoriously difficult to find, contracts have radically changed, with teams now going for continuity rather than spontaneity.
McLaren is no exception to this new way of business as, in May 2022, they secured the services of Lando Norris until 2025, holding off Red Bull’s advances.
At the time of renewal, Norris was outpacing his more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo. He had just scored McLaren’s first podium of the year at Imola after a troubled trio of flyaways.
So where could Norris end up, and what can McLaren do to keep him until his contract runs out?
Second bite of the Red Bull cherry may be digested
As previously mentioned, Red Bull had been after Norris’ services before the McLaren deal was announced, but when he snubbed the deal, Sergio Perez had his contract extended until 2024.
Perez’s extension came off the back of an excellent start to 2022, which included a memorable win in the Monaco GP. Still, his form nosedived following the Canadian Grand Prix, costing him second in the drivers’ championship.
Now with Norris unhappy at McLaren, Red Bull may decide to try again, but they will need to buy his contract and Perez’s, potentially causing several headaches for both teams.
But if all parties were to work together, compromises would need to be made, and for Norris in particular, a chance at driving for the best team currently on the F1 grid may be too hard to pass up.
McLaren urgently needs to improve
Four years ago, McLaren seemed to be a team back on the up with a Mercedes engine deal agreed upon for 2021, and podiums finally returning, things were looking good.
But despite finishing third in the constructors’ championship in 2020, the team has since failed to break the big three’s monopoly on the sport and is going backwards rather than forwards.
This digression can be pinned down to two factors. Firstly McLaren’s lack of an in-house wind tunnel until at least 2025 forcing the team to hire one based in Germany, losing valuable aero time.
Secondly, having customer Mercedes engines has limited McLaren’s development meaning a factory deal and in-house wind tunnel for 2025 must be on top of the team’s shopping list if they want to keep Norris.
A potential reunion with Seidl or a trip to Maranello may be on the cards.
A move to Red Bull or staying the course at McLaren isn’t Norris’ only option, with some teams expected to shake up their lineups for 2024 and 2025.
One of those teams is Alfa Romeo, which becomes Audi in 2026 and already have Andreas Seidl on board, potentially tempting Norris even if it wins and championships don’t come immediately.
Suppose a move to Audi doesn’t sound appealing. In that case, an opening at Mercedes or Ferrari may get Norris’s attention, especially with both outfits having a more extensive scope for development than McLaren.
Aston Martin could be a possibility, but it would require Lance Stroll to move on, meaning Norris may be forced to relinquish his number-one status to move to a better team.
Urgent focus on reliability
One of McLaren’s core weaknesses is the car’s reliability, and this was ruthlessly exposed in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, with Norris and Piastri suffering technical issues.
The issues on Norris’ car forced him to stop six times, turning his race into a glorified test session as he struggled to move clear of the front runners.
It marked the second season opener where McLaren have struggled with reliability issues, and whilst some teams, such as Alpine, have lost ground, they still managed to get points in Bahrain.
Reliability is something which McLaren needs to work on in 2023 and 2024 if the team desires a return to their 2020-21 form, as the poor starts have continuously held the team back.
Bigger salary could be offered to ease the pain
Although the challenge of driving for a bigger team and potentially taking on friend Max Verstappen may interest him, McLaren might give Norris an increased salary to keep him.
An example of McLaren paying up to keep a star driver came in 1993 when then-team principal Ron Dennis offered a disgruntled Ayrton Senna $1m just to race, taking five victories on the way.
But times are different, and although Norris out-qualified Piastri in Bahrain, he won’t be content to scrap away for anything, particularly when his contemporaries are fighting for wins and championships.
Crucially to make his bigger salary more attractive to the team, an extension will need to be agreed on for one or two years, which will be challenging to agree upon with all parties.