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Lando Norris

'McLaren turnaround has prevented uncomfortable Norris questions'

The remarkable turnaround from McLaren in 2023 has eased uncomfortable questions the team could have faced about star driver Lando Norris - although weaknesses still remain.

Norris Las Vegas
To news overview © XPBimages

Lando Norris is 'McLaren's driver.'

As teams view themselves now as franchises, all the leading outfits in Formula 1 have a 'franchise driver' - be it Max Verstappen at Red Bull, Charles Leclerc at Ferrari or Lewis Hamilton and George Russell at Mercedes.

Norris had been nurtured through the junior ranks by McLaren, and was firmly Zak Brown's driver, hence why Stoffel Vandoorne was jettisoned for 2019 and then 19-year-old Norris handed a tenancy agreement on a McLaren cockpit.

Russell also debuted that year with Leclerc into his second year in F1, having earned an immediate promotion to Ferrari after an impressive rookie campaign with Sauber in 2018 and so the careers of the trio are largely linked.

2023 was the fifth season all three had been on the grid together, and of all their careers, Norris had enjoyed the least amount of success.

Sure, there had been a few podiums, a pole position and a lost victory at the 2021 Russian Grand Prix for the fiercely competitive and talented Norris, but both Russell and Leclerc already claimed their first wins and were in teams hoping to challenge for the title in '23 - although that turned out to be wide of the mark.

While Brown had worked wonders to turn around a McLaren team on its knees in the summer of 2018, the team was still struggling to produce quality cars that could challenge for regular podiums and even that ever elusive race win for Norris.

Problems at the start of the season

And that winning itch was not about to be scratched when the MCL60 was unveiled in February with the team openly admitting that targets had been missed and a floor upgrade in Azerbaijan would be key to turning the car around.

Technical director James Key fell on his sword as McLaren started the season slowly as a midfield also-ran with just 17 points after eight races between Norris and rookie Oscar Piastri.

Hardly a way to try and convince your star driver that it might be worth sticking around beyond your contract in 2025 when the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull might have Hamilton and Verstappen-sized holes to fill.

But, in Austria and Singapore, two big upgrade packages were added to the MCL60 that transformed it into a competitive beast and vaulted the car to second fastest behind Red Bull's RB19.

Much is often made of teams bringing upgrade packages that turn out to be over-hyped and don't bring the expected levels of performance - but what McLaren promised, it delivered.

From the Austrian Grand Prix, Norris scored seven podiums including six second places as he led the charge up both the Drivers' and Constructors' tables, although his recovery to fifth in Mexico was his best drive of the season after a Q1 exit and dropping places on the red flag standing restart.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

The future is Papaya

Despite claiming fourth in the Constructors', there are still major problems for McLaren to solve with its package.

The car must be driven in a very particular way, and has weaknesses in low-speed corners that Norris believes has not been rectified since his debut, which are limiting his potential to extract the maximum by nubbing his prefered driving style.

Norris likes to 'U' a corner, carrying more minimum speed through the apex in a smooth action, akin to Jenson Button, but has been forced to instead 'V' corners, with a sharp turn-in to get the nose in before stamping on the throttle. It is a demand that ultimately doomed Daniel Ricciardo.

In addition, Norris himself has some weaknesses he needs to iron out, especially in qualifying where at key moments in 2023, he cracked under pressure, such as in Qatar and Abu Dhabi.

That's okay when fighting for podiums, but in the white-hot furnace of a championship battle and given how close the field now is, behind Red Bull at least, mistakes like that will be capitalised on and exploited by rivals.

Norris is determined to win the title in a McLaren, as it is his team, but that sentimentality will only get you so far. Sometimes being ruthless and cutting ties is what is required for your career.

But Norris and McLaren have now built themselves a platform on which they can attack heading into 2025. He won't be going anywhere, and surely it is only a matter of time before he joins Russell and Leclerc as a Grand Prix winner.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

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