Do McLaren have a Hamilton vs Rosberg situation brewing?

Oscar Piastri currently leads Lando Norris by four points in the F1 Driver Standings after two rounds of the 2024 season

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With Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s infamous Mercedes war still lingering in the memories of those in F1, could it happen under McLaren’s watch between two promising talents in Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri? Zak Brown explains why the second-year is a threat to Norris in 2024.

Piastri appears to have taken a big step forward in race pace in comparison to Norris from 2023 to this Formula 1 season after comfortably beating him across the entirety of the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend, becoming a very serious challenge to the Brit’s status as top dog in the team.

But Brown, McLaren’s CEO, praised the young Australian by confessing he arrives to races far more prepared than he did in his debut F1 season giving him a platform to truly refine his pace.

“He continues to get faster and faster,” Brown said of Piastri. “Obviously, we’re only two races in but what we’re seeing is he’s got his rookie stripes off now.

Oscar Piastri during practice for the 2024 Australian GP | McLaren
Oscar Piastri during practice for the 2024 Australian GP | McLaren

“So, his Fridays are on the pace right away and he doesn’t really make mistakes. He’s extremely fast. I think for the first two races of the year, it’s the closest driver pairing in the field and that’s exactly what you want as a team.

“I think they’re pushing each other, they’re pushing the team. So, I’m very excited about our driver line-up for the foreseeable future.”

Do McLaren risk repeating history?

The rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg was one of the most intense and highly-publicized rivalries in recent F1 history when the two drivers were teammates at Mercedes from 2013 to 2016.

When they became teammates in 2013, their competitive nature and desire to win often led to on-track clashes and off-track tension as their childhood friendship turned sour. The rivalry famously reached its peak between the 2014-2016 seasons when Hamilton and Rosberg battled for the world championship.

It led to a series of on-track clashes and moments, as well as general tension, saw Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda almost lose control of the situation entirely at the Silver Arrows. Notably at the 2016 Abu Dhabi GP when Hamilton simply refused to increase his pace as he tried to back Rosberg into Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen in a late bid to win the title.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton at the 2015 Spanish GP |
Reuters / Gustau Nacarino
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton at the 2015 Spanish GP | Reuters / Gustau Nacarino

And if McLaren doesn’t carefully manage the dynamic between Piastri and Norris, they could find the situation on their hands if the team ever gets anywhere near the title fight or competing for wins.

At the moment, they’re far enough away that it probably won’t turn bitter over fifth place, but it is something Brown should start to think about in the future as Norris no longer looks like he enjoys a small, but significant, pace buffer.

Throughout 2023, Piastri was never that far away over one lap, but he was a handy couple of tenths off on Sundays. That allowed them to settle into a clear dynamic of Norris being the lead driver, despite Piastri‘s sprint race win.

But that no longer appears to be the trend in 2024. At the Saudi Arabian GP, Piastri out-qualified Norris by 0.043 and that gave him the preferred strategy in the race when the safety car arrived.

It actually, in the process, destroyed Norris’s race as he couldn’t pit and could only recover to eighth at the chequered flag. He was a distant 13 seconds behind, showing how costly than half a tenth.

Less than half a tenth was worth eight points between the pair so it’s no wonder that relationships very quickly implode in such a high pressure environment like F1. We will wait to see how McLaren and their quick duo manage these waters.

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