Having established himself as one of the top five drivers on the grid, Lando Norris has naturally become hot property on Formula 1’s driver market - and McLaren has made clear keeping him is one of its key 2024 priorities.
Red Bull has been linked with a move for Norris regularly throughout his F1 career so far, and such speculation has only intensified as Sergio Perez’s struggles have deepened.
Norris is under contract to McLaren until the end of 2025, but there could be break clauses within that deal - and you can never rule out the possibility of another team turning Norris’s head and making a play to buy him out.
McLaren moved quickly to tie Oscar Piastri down until the end of 2026, amid his sensational rookie campaign, so the team has at least one driver under contract for the first season of F1’s new rules.
But the future for Norris remains uncertain beyond the end of the current rules cycle, which is why McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown regards striking a fresh deal with his star driver as a “high priority” in 2024.
Brown says McLaren is talking to Norris on a “continuous basis” as it tries to retain a driver Brown clearly feels is a key component of McLaren’s push to get back to the front of the grid.
“I feel my primary role is to get the right people in place, give them the right resources and support,” Brown said, when asked by The Race at the team's 2024 launch event, how much of a priority it was to hold contract talks with Norris in 2024.
“When you're building a team that you have desires to get back to winning the world championship, you need the management, you need the technology, the infrastructure, and of course, you need the two drivers. And I think we have all of those in place.
“We have one of them under contract for another couple of years. Of course, we're in dialogue with him [Norris] on a continuous basis as he's starting to think [things] through, as we are.
“We're very focused now on the short term, but also ’26 is not far away and recognise that being able to retain Lando and Oscar for the foreseeable future is definitely a key element and something that is a high priority for us.”
Now that Stella’s revamped technical line-up is in place, and McLaren’s new simulation tools, windtunnel and production facilities are operational, Norris will be able to stress test the pledges that have been made to him over recent seasons about why McLaren is the team he should stick with - rather than be tempted by any potential Red Bull approach.
Red Bull's far from guaranteed to come calling but its issue of finding a consistently performing team-mate to partner Max Verstappen with, persists.
Daniel Ricciardo is probably front of the queue, if Sergio Perez doesn't perform in 2024, but Red Bull could also be tempted to reach outside of its existing driver pool, and Norris would surely be near the top of any list of external candidates.
Brown was asked whether McLaren was “worried” about Red Bull making a play to sign Norris, and he responded by basically saying McLaren is in much less danger of losing its star driver if the team eliminates any obvious reasons for him to look elsewhere.
“I have a belief, whether it's employees, drivers, sponsors, that it's our job to take care of them and for them to want to be at McLaren,” Brown said.
“So I tend to focus on making sure that McLaren is the best environment and people want to be with us, because you ultimately can't control external approaches to those various people.
“I’m very confident in the relationship we have with Lando, I know he's very excited for this year, was very impressed with what he saw in the second half of last year, loves working with Andrea and everyone on the team.
“All we can keep doing is keep giving him the environment he wants to be in and then I’m confident he’ll stick around, as opposed to trying to kind of ‘sell’ against the competition. That’s never been my way.”
Brown’s hope is that he has hired enough of the right people, and invested properly in enough of the key areas, to shape a McLaren team that Norris will still want to be a part of regardless of approaches by Red Bull or any other team.
It's also arguably in Norris's own interest to strike a new deal with McLaren sooner rather than later, if he's so inclined, because his bargaining power will be stronger while he retains a clear performance advantage over Piastri.
If Piastri somehow emerges as McLaren's stronger driver over the coming months that could shift the landscape unfavourably for Norris.
As ever in F1, timing is everything.