Lando Norris backed to pile pressure on Max Verstappen by F1 champion

Mika Hakkinen believes Lando Norris can challenge Max Verstappen for the F1 title

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Two-time Formula 1 champion Mika Hakkinen has backed his former team McLaren to fight Red Bull and Max Verstappen for the championship in 2024 – because they have the best driver pairing in Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

Norris secured seven podium finishes in 13 races – six of which came as runner-up to Verstappen – as McLaren’s mid-season upgrades helped them secure fourth place in the constructors’ championship. Likewise, Piastri took his place on the podium for the first time in Japan and followed that up with his best finish in F1 in second in Qatar.

The Australian also beat Verstappen to the line in the sprint race in Qatar to secure his first-ever win in F1, leading pundits and his fellow drivers to wax lyrical about the 22-year-old’s enormous potential.

Hakkinen is well-qualified to judge which drivers could be future world champions, having won titles in 1998 and 1999 with the Woking team. And he has predicted Norris and Piastri will finish their respective careers with a piece of silverware, as well as causing problems for Verstappen this season.

“I expect a lot from McLaren. After having a disastrous start to the season last year, they have developed very well and, above all, consistently,” Hakkinen told Bild.

“With Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, they probably have the strongest driver pairing next to Ferrari. Both have the potential to become world champions. Piastri puts pressure on Norris, and Verstappen will also feel that this year.”

Verstappen given reality check

The task of catching Verstappen resets in 2024 as teams rebuild their cars with a better grasp on the regulations, but there are fears at Red Bull they could be caught by Mercedes and Red Bull, with McLaren and Aston Martin not far behind.

The Dutchman is hoping to match Sebastian Vettel’s achievement of four world titles in a row, but Hakkinen, 55, has underlined the importance of Red Bull providing him with a competitive car – warning that his talent alone will not be enough.

“What Max has achieved in the past few years is incredible. But to even catch up [to Lewis Hamilton] with the world titles, he needs four more,” the Finn added. “Max has the talent to become the best of all time, but it’s not just him.

“Team boss, car, pit crew, management – ​​everything has to be right. That was the case with Lewis and Michael. That’s why they were able to shape an era.”

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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