Forget Ferrari, McLaren are the biggest threat to Red Bull

McLaren's incremental progress has seen them join Red Bull at the front - and replace Ferrari as the main threat to their dominance in F1

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The very fact that Lando Norris was disappointed and frustrated with finishing second at the Formula 1 2024 Canadian Grand Prix is a great representation of how far McLaren have progressed over the last two years.

While Red Bull might consider Ferrari their main threat to the drivers’ and constructors’ titles, the race in Montreal offered a different viewpoint: McLaren are the real challengers.

Had it not been for some hesitance from McLaren‘s strategists during the first safety car, Norris would have likely won the race in Canada – and he was keen to make that point in the post-race press conference. Eventual race winner Max Verstappen was never comfortable out front, nor was George Russell, when Norris approached his rear wing and passed him.

It was a disastrous race for Ferrari, who finished with a double DNF having seen their drivers finish in the top five in the previous eight races in 2024. Many felt they would be challenging Red Bull after watching Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz wins races this season – now they need to look over their shoulder at McLaren behind them.

Lando Norris during practice for the 2024 Canadian GP | McLaren F1 Team
Lando Norris finished second at the 2024 Canadian GP | McLaren F1 Team

But what is interesting to note is that the last three races – Imola, Monaco and Canada – are all different types of track, with low-speed corners and long straights. Yet, McLaren have been electric at all three.

The same can’t be said for Ferrari – who qualified P11 and P12 in Montreal – or even Red Bull, who had Verstappen in sixth and Sergio Perez 18th in Monaco qualifying respectively. If there are weaknesses to be found, McLaren haven’t been exposed yet.

Norris leading the charge

Since coming home in eighth in Saudi Arabia, Norris has finished every race in the top five. That includes his maiden victory in Miami and four appearances in the podium, finishing P2 on three occasions.

Even Oscar Piastri, despite his relative inexperience, has been quick in the MCL38 and finished inside the top four on four occasions, including his second place at the Monaco GP.

Norris is third in the drivers’ championship with 131 points and by finishing second in Canada, he closed the gap on Leclerc to just seven points. Verstappen is still a fair distance ahead on 191, but Red Bull have good reason to consider as Norris as a genuine threat.

Max Verstappen and Lando Norris of McLaren after qualifying for the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

His rise should come as no surprise. In the 2023 campaign, he finished on the podium seven times in 15 races after McLaren brought major upgrades to their car – and the Briton seemed to be the second-quickest driver behind Verstappen.

Piastri wasn’t far behind either and joined him on the podium in Qatar and Japan, as well as winning the F1 Sprint in the latter.

There is a mature side to Norris‘ character which means he sees the big picture. Of course, P2 is not to be sniffed at in this competitive era of F1, but he wants more and realised that if McLaren stand still, they risk becoming complacent.

By demanding improvements and near perfection, Norris is following Verstappen‘s lead – and that can only be a good thing.

Brown: Andrea doing a Stella job

It’s not all down to the drivers, though. McLaren‘s emergence has seen them surpass Mercedes this season as the third team capable of fighting for the championship and for that, team principal Andrea Stella and CEO Zak Brown deserve a huge amount of credit.

As F1 fans will recall, McLaren were irrelevant in that conversation as recently as 2018 when Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandorne was their driving pairing. Now, they look as dangerous as they did with Alonso and an ambitious Lewis Hamilton at their disposal.

Brown was keen to credit Stella for the turnaround from the early stages of the 2023 season, as the Italian has taken the Woking team back to the front of the grid when they were languishing amongst the backmarkers.

“I think to have a turnaround of this size and magnitude is literally a team effort,” Brown told theScore. “But if I had to then point the finger at one person that it starts with, that would be Andrea Stella and the leadership he’s provided to the team.

“The way he’s been able to get the team, which outside of a few people are the same people that gave us the start of the year in 2023 that have now given us a winning car, and I put that down to Andrea’s leadership.”

It’s been a long time since Alonso compared their disastrous Honda power unit to a “GP2” engine, but McLaren have made great strides over the last two years. They are now equipped with the staff, leadership, drivers and the right car to compete again – and those who don’t take them seriously will do so at their peril.

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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