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Our verdict on Norris's new long-term McLaren F1 deal

10 min read

Barely a day after Charles Leclerc's new contract at Ferrari was formally announced, McLaren now has its long-time Formula 1 prospect Lando Norris locked into what it's describing as a "long-term" agreement - like Leclerc's, the end point in undisclosed.

What we do know is McLaren's line-up is now set to remain unchanged until at least the end of the 2026 F1 season, as that's when Oscar Piastri - whose own extension was announced in September - is contracted until.


Is Norris right to believe this is where he's most likely to taste success? Or is his decision premature given the potential for major change in the driver market in the coming years?

And given it also ends speculation about any possibility of a Red Bull move - rumours that Norris openly says he "enjoyed" - is that something that's now destined never to happen?

Here are our writers' thoughts as another piece of F1's silly season jigsaw falls into place.

The grass isn't always greener

Gary Anderson

With two years still on Norris's existing contract, the first question is: what were his options? A move for 2026, when a new set of regulations kick in, would be a big gamble.

McLaren is on an upward curve and that should only get better with the investment in people and new equipment. An up-to-date windtunnel and simulator can only be positive. For far too long, McLaren told itself that what it had was cutting edge but it wasn’t. Now it's accepted it, bitten the bullet and spent the money.

The same can't really be said about two of the other potential frontrunners, Ferrari and Mercedes. Yes, they have the latest kit but they are not really making best use of it - so that leaves Red Bull.

It has its golden boy in Max Verstappen and simply going by his performance race after race, rightly so. That means anyone joining Red Bull while he is still there would have to play second fiddle to him. Norris wants and deserves an equal opportunity rather than being seen as a solid number two, and Red Bull can also be cut-throat if a driver has a bad patch.

Looking at the other teams that might have offered him an opportunity, there is Aston Martin. Again, the big question here is: Would Aston offer any better than what he has at McLaren? The simple answer is no. If all goes as planned for both Aston Martin and McLaren, I think McLaren will come out on top. There is also the question of Lawrence Stroll's commitment if son Lance doesn’t start to deliver the goods.

That covers the top five teams, but why would Norris want to go to any of the other five? Money would be the only reason, but he isn't short of a few bucks.

So summing up: get the deal sorted when your stock is high, focus on your own performance, and reduce mistakes with a clear mind and future while keeping an eye looking over your shoulder for Oscar Piastri getting more comfortable with F1.

For Norris, that makes perfect sense.

Why the length secrecy?

Scott Mitchell-Malm

Like Ferrari with Leclerc, McLaren has opted not to disclose the exact duration of Norris’s new contract. Which seems a bit like classic F1 secrecy for the sake of secrecy.

When I asked McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown why he initially laughed and said ‘because it’s our business’. But Norris’s last deal was their business too, and we were told when that expired and that there were no break clauses. And we were told by McLaren just last October that Piastri’s new contract runs until the end of 2026…

There will be a reason why. It could be that Norris, and even Leclerc, hasn’t signed up for as long as his previous deal. Norris signed a four-deal McLaren deal in February 2022. If he has not committed for that long again, McLaren might be wanting to avoid too much focus on why that’s the case.

On a similar note, it might well be tied to break clauses. Norris didn't need a break clause before as McLaren represented a very good long-term option - good money, good security, a strong emotional link, and competitive enough with the potential to improve.

But the circumstances are different now. He is a little older, his reputation is further improved, and his importance is unquestionable. Plus, he will, sooner or later, have other options.

So it’d be surprising if this new deal has also been done without an option somewhere down the line to leave if McLaren isn’t getting the job done. But maybe not. Lando sounds very happy and committed so maybe he, once again, doesn’t want an asterisk against that.

And whatever the duration or caveats of the deal, McLaren will just be delighted to have managed to tie him down longer term.

Another win for McLaren's dynasty

Edd Straw

It seems absurd to say this about a team that has won just one grand prix out of the last 223 staged, but this is another significant brick in McLaren's dynasty building.

Norris is an outstanding driver, one who has evolved with McLaren and built a formidable partnership with it. Locking him in ensures that if everything proceeds as expected for McLaren, which means re-emerging as a consistent winner and world championship threat, then it has an outstanding line-up set for the long-term.

Looking back to the depths McLaren plumbed in the Honda years, and when the subsequent switch to Renault exposed its own technical weaknesses, this encapsulates an approach transformed. Where once there was complacency that allowed technical regression relative to the opposition, McLaren has taken a deeply strategic approach to its recovery and is on a trajectory that means confidence is high that it will make good on its objectives.

There's always the chance it will stumble, but the way McLaren has approached this and in particular the changes made under team principal Andrea Stella means it has everything in place to be back to the level McLaren performed at in its pomp.

After all, Norris is well-placed to judge the progress made and could easily have held off on committing to a new deal. His willingness to lock himself in (with the caveat that, as Daniel Ricciardo learned, all contracts can be be dissolved for the right price) is a signal to the outside world that McLaren really is ready to put the years in the wilderness behind it.

An insurance policy against trouble ahead

Ben Anderson

It makes perfect sense for Norris to commit to a new McLaren contract now, while his stock is at its highest. He vanquished Ricciardo and is unquestionably McLaren’s top dog at the moment.

McLaren is also right in the mix again. No team other than Red Bull is a guaranteed step up for Norris at this point. If Red Bull still wants Norris in the near future, it can presumably pay through the nose to get him - so this is a nice insurance policy for McLaren too.

Andrea Stella’s McLaren looks to be on the right path technically, at last, and retaining Norris alongside Piastri locks in one of the top three driver line-ups in F1 through the next rules cycle.

The big challenge for McLaren will be managing the dynamic as Piastri improves. It’s still too early to know exactly what his ceiling is, but we’ve seen enough to already to suggest he’s only going to make Norris’s life harder.

That puts modern McLaren into potentially uncomfortable territory. If the car becomes capable of title challenges, and Piastri proves himself to be a top-line driver, then Stella will likely have a lot of work to do managing the two of them.

There’s also a chance Piastri eclipses Norris in the near-term, in which case Norris has made absolutely the right play to agree fresh terms with McLaren before that uncomfortable scenario plays out.

If Piastri does to Norris a version of what Norris did to Ricciardo, then Norris’s chances of a better drive would automatically drop anyway - but at least this way Norris is sitting on a better deal when figuring out his next move.

Drivers' long-term faith is surprising

Valentin Khorounzhiy

Putting aside the merits of this specific contractual agreements - and there are clear considerable merits - allow me for a moment to wallow in the lamentations over the state of F1's driver market, which seems to have arrived at the maximum-entropy 'heat death of the universe' a few billion years ahead of schedule.

Where's all the movement? Where's even the promise of movement? How can drivers generate buzz and excitement by jockeying for the best available seats when 90% of those seats are locked down by their incumbents several years in advance, and those that aren't (the second Red Bull seat) are apparently of little interest to the cream of the crop?

This doesn't necessarily apply to McLaren, a team that showed an incredible curve of improvement in 2023 (though also a team that has won a total of one grand prix in the last 223 attempts) - but it's surprising that drivers are as keen as ever to commit long-term considering how many of F1's teams are currently viewed as punching below their weight, and considering a massive regulations change is right around the corner.

Maybe it's just a matter of capitalising on F1's much-improved financial health. Maybe it's just about favouring the devil you know over a similarly-performing but unfamiliar team or the daunting task of walking into Max Verstappen's home.

Whatever the underlying mechanisms, it feels like we're missing out on variety. And I'm not saying drivers and teams should specifically aim to shuffle the deck to keep me entertained - just that this current stability isn't much fun.

Is this the end of Norris-Red Bull once and for all?

Jack Benyon

Perhaps I have a greater sense of longevity in the teasing ‘will they, won’t they’ romance of Red Bull and Norris.

I covered Norris’s Formula 2 season and from the middle of that 2018 year one of the great stories to keep track of was whether McLaren would take up its option on Norris and promote him to F1 or would Red Bull succeed in prising Brown’s prodigy away.

So far, McLaren has always come out on top and it feels like that will always be the case now.

This wasn’t quite the perfect opportunity for a move. Red Bull may well want to replace Sergio Perez at the end of 2024, but a pre-agreed stop-gap solution for a year and then grabbing Norris at the end of his 2025 McLaren contract wouldn’t have been too difficult.

Red Bull is on the precipice of having one of the best teams and cars in F1 history, but even that has not been enough to delay Norris extending his contract, in turn making a Red Bull switch incredibly difficult into the future. Right when Red Bull might need a better second driver as the pressure from other teams increases, too.

It’s a huge vote of confidence from Norris in team principal Stella, Brown and McLaren as a whole that it can close the gap and offer Norris a title-winning car.

So much about a Red Bull move would make sense; pairing with his good pal Verstappen, benefitting from the energy drinks brand’s image and his own fan-friendly and youthful brand, and a car that would likely be the best on the grid when he got in it.

That makes you wonder, short of an enormous McLaren decline, if there’s anything that would tempt Norris to pull the trigger on a Red Bull move.

Why is anyone taking themselves out of the driver market?

Matt Beer

While part of me really appreciates the degree of driver-team loyalty we're seeing from the current F1 generation compared to their more readily team-hopping predecessors, I don't think any future champion driver needs to be tying themselves down in a hurry right now.

For all McLaren's late-2023 promise, the fact remains that two teams have won every F1 title between them since 2010 and both those teams are near-certain to have medium-term vacancies. Lewis Hamilton is much nearer to the end of his career than the start and Perez is on obviously thin ice at Red Bull. You could even throw in Verstappen's hints that he might exit F1 sooner than most expect or question whether George Russell has erased enough doubts for Mercedes to be certain he's its next title winner.

Are the two most successful teams (by far) in modern F1 going to struggle to fill their gaps because the very best options to win more titles for them are already tied down to teams that have spent most of the last decade and a half disappointing?

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