The 2021 F1 season might only be four races old but there have already been developments in the 2022 driver market. It has been confirmed that Lando Norris will remain with McLaren for the next season and beyond, having signed a multi-year deal.
This announcement marks the continuation of what has already been a long-term relationship between Norris and the team, with the Briton having first joined as a junior driver back in 2017. It was in 2019 that he made the step up to a full-time Formula 1 seat, and since then the 21-year-old has given McLaren numerous reasons to back him for future years.
Firstly, there is the obvious factor of Norris' impressive run of results in recent times. The signs of development were there early in 2020, when Norris scored the first podium finish of his career at the opening race of the season in Austria. Throughout the season, the young driver showed consistency and proved to be even more closely matched to teammate Carlos Sainz than in 2019.
The year finished on a high, with a fifth-place finish in Abu Dhabi helping to secure third in the constructors' championship for McLaren.
In 2021, Norris' upward ascent has continued, and the Briton has proved to be one of the standout drivers of the year so far. Finishing fourth in the season-opener in Bahrain was followed by his second ever podium finish at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. For a time Norris held third place in the drivers' championship, an impressive feat given that the only drivers ahead of him were title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
Since then he has slipped to fourth and there is clearly some strong competition ahead from the likes of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, but the signs are promising for the rest of Norris' season.
Alongside this, Norris has outperformed new teammate Daniel Ricciardo at most races so far. Whilst it is clear that Ricciardo is still adapting to the car after switching teams from Renault, this level of performance from Norris has highlighted his own ability.
Ricciardo has previously revealed that he is with the team on a three-year contract so, with Norris' current form, it would have perhaps seemed a strange move to have not re-signed the Briton for the same length of time, given that he is more than matching the more experienced Ricciardo.
Additionally, the signing of Ricciardo has allowed Norris to show his growth as a team leader. His long-term relationship with McLaren has given him a thorough knowledge of the team and the car, and this is obviously helpful when it comes to giving feedback on the progression of both factors from previous seasons, something that Ricciardo is not yet able to offer.
Another factor in McLaren's decision to re-sign Norris could perhaps be that, with these strengths emerging and bringing his talent into the spotlight, the Briton is now being talked about as a future champion in a way that he wasn't before.
This means that his appeal heightens to other teams in the paddock. In recent times, Ferrari and Red Bull have been quick to sign long-term contracts for their own highly-rated young drivers, with Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen getting multi-year deals at their respective teams. Signing Norris now means that McLaren have secured their possible future star.
Alongside all of this, Norris has shown himself to be a popular and appealing figure in the sport. The McLaren driver has arguably brought new audiences to F1 thanks to his fondness for streaming, and has amassed a large fanbase due to his down-to-earth nature and sense of humour. Norris is also unafraid to use his platform to speak out on issues such as mental health and racism in sport. All of this points to somebody who can be a leader both on and off the track.