McLaren have enjoyed a strong season this year as they bounced back from a slow start – but will they struggle going forward? McLaren has grabbed the headlines in recent weeks as its Formula 1 recovery has gained momentum.
BAfter starting the current campaign at the rear and tuning to the rear of the grid, subsequent updates have lifted the car into the realm of respectable grid competitiveness. Lando Norris earned the team’s first podium of the year with second place at Silverstone and followed that up with second place in Hungary two weeks later. The Brit kept pace with new rookie Oscar Piastr in the early stages of the campaign and continued to look like the frontrunner for the first half of the year. That continued to be the case as Piastri added a first trophy to his Japanese collection when Norris overtook the Australian on the track after consulting his team that he had the pace, which slowed as he fell behind his team-mate.
But Qatar was different – a rarity in the last two years, but Norris seemed under pressure. Not only that, he made mistakes in the heat of the moment. The 23-year-old felt he should have taken pole position during qualifying and the sprint race and was confident he could have turned both into race wins. Instead, his best lap time during qualifying was scrapped after discovering the track restrictions when he ran wide in the final corner for the fastest lap in the Sprint Shootout. Piastri took the measure both times and won the sprint for his first “F1”.
The speed seen throughout the season was nicely supported by mature racing which was helped by this year’s growth. Piatri puts pressure on Norris Piastri was thrust into the spotlight this year due to the surreal circumstances that led him to make his F1 debut with McLaren instead of Alpine. The fact that two organizations were vying for his services before he even turned the wheel on a race weekend spoke volumes for how highly he was regarded, and his performances this year show why he was in such demand. There has been a gap with Norris this year, but there is little hope that Piastri can beat him outright.
Norris is currently regarded as one of the best talents on the grid and is undoubtedly McLaren’s most outstanding driver due to his experience and the results he has shown in five seasons with the Woking team. Signing Piastr was a risk for McLaren when it displaced the experience of Daniel Ricciardo (probably inferior) with the young people of Piastr. Having been uncompetitive for much of the turbo hybrid era, McLaren was on the road to recovery. Its new direction, with young drivers leading the charge, was an aggressive approach. But so far it has worked.
Piastri has gone from strength to strength throughout the year and last time out in Qatar he enjoyed his strongest weekend to date and further rewarded McLaren’s faith in him. The car is strong, McLaren’s factory efforts cannot be faulted and its driving pair were a breath of fresh air. But how long will it last? Challenges for McLaren? Now, three-time F1 world champion Max Verstappen recently stated that McLaren has the “best driver line-up” compared to Red Bull’s rivals. On the face of it, this seems like a bold claim when you consider that Mercedes have Lewis Hamilton/George Russell and Ferrari fields Charles Leclerc/Carlos Sainz.
But McLaren has the strongest line-up in the business, especially given its performances in recent races, where it won a double podium – the first since 2010. Norris is 23 and 21. and Piastri continues to improve. Both still have a lot to learn in F1 and have already shown they can be the best in the series. Although there is harmony now, it may present challenges for the team in the future. Piatr is under contract with McLaren until the end of 2026 after recently signing a contract extension, while Norris is at least until the end of the 2025 campaign.
McLaren’s upward trajectory will hopefully one day bring back top-level competition and provide a more unpredictable spectacle than this year’s Red Bull steamroller. If it reaches two heavyweights, it could be a worry for McLaren. Rarely do two titans train on the same team. McLaren has a history here most famously through the days of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna and even Hamilton’s rookie year when he was partnered with Fernando Alonso. If both drivers want to establish themselves as team leaders, McLaren may have to step in – but such a decision could make things even uglier.
McLaren is not there yet, but at the heart of this lineup are two amazing young drivers. Should they progress, is there a situation where it does not lead to relegation and separation of both sides? That’s not a cause for concern in itself, but it’s a situation McLaren should probably prepare for – or they could lose everything they’ve built.