Just how much longer can Lando Norris tolerate McLaren’s mediocrity?
Of all the teams competing in Formula One, McLaren have the best record in Australia. Their tally of 11 race wins Down Under since 1985, when the Australian Grand Prix was included as a round of the F1 world championship for the first time, just pips Ferrari’s 10. The only problem is their last victory here – Jenson Button’s on the opening day of the 2012 season – was over a decade ago now. And the likelihood of them adding to their tally this weekend is about as high as Australians declaring a McLaren have the best record in Formula One history, with 11 race wins Down Under since 1985. However, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri are struggling to make it to Q3 in Q3 and Q2 in Bahrain respectively. McLaren have announced a shake-up of their technical team, including the sacking of technical director James Key. Norris insists he has faith and belief in the team and is confident they can turn around this season with their new wind tunnel and new engine partner Red Bull.
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Of all the teams competing in Formula One, McLaren have the best record in Australia. Their tally of 11 race wins Down Under since 1985, when the Australian Grand Prix was included as a round of the F1 world championship for the first time, just pips Ferrari’s 10. The only problem is their last victory here – Jenson Button’s on the opening day of the 2012 season – was over a decade ago now. And the likelihood of them adding to their tally this weekend is about as high as Australians declaring a fondness for warm beer and England cricketers.
These are miserable times for F1 fans who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s on a diet of McLaren and Williams success. The sight of those two famous marques fighting each other for 15th place in Saudi Arabia two weekends ago was a new low. For those of a McLaren bent, the fact that they are losing even that battle – the Woking team currently prop up the constructors’ table with a grand total of zero points from two races – is even harder to stomach.
Admittedly, McLaren's car is better than their results so far suggest. Oscar Piastri made it into Q3 in Jeddah and Lando Norris almost did the same in Bahrain. But not a lot better. It was no great surprise when they announced a big shake-up of their technical team last week, including the sacking of technical director James Key, who had been in post since 2019. “Change was needed,” explained the team’s chief executive Zak Brown. “We push forward.”
Sitting in the Albert Park sunshine on Friday, Norris, McLaren’s young British driver who has emerged as one of the sport’s brightest talents, insists he has not lost faith in the team.
“Anything that Andrea [Stella, who was promoted to team principal over the winter following the sudden departure of Andreas Seidl] and Zak do, I have faith and belief in,” he says. “Obviously I’m biased but I believe in those guys.
“Andrea I’ve worked with for the last five years. I sit beside him in every single briefing we have. I rate him very highly. I think a lot of people do up and down the paddock. The way he speaks, in the short time he’s been in the post, gives me a lot of confidence. And then Zak I always have confidence in. His strength is bringing in sponsors and partners and he’s exceptional at it.”
There is no denying that, at least in terms of the sheer number of sponsors the American has brought in. The jury, though, is very much still out on Brown's ability to assemble a race-winning team.
Norris says he is confident things will be different this time. He cites the new wind tunnel, due to open this summer (McLaren currently rents Toyota's wind tunnel in Cologne, which involves packing parts into a van and sending them off to Germany) plus their new state-of-the-art simulator, which likewise should be ready later this year. “I believe we’re on a better footing now,” he says.
They had better be. Norris may have signed a new long-term contract, until the end of 2025, after the team’s promising 2021 season. But he will surely not wait forever. “I’m here until the end of my contract, 100 per cent,” he insists, denying the existence of any sort of break clause. “I see what people write. And speculation is inevitable, I get that. But I honestly believe we can turn this around. We’re being more aggressive than we ever have in the past.”
Stella revealed here that McLaren have three major updates to come this year, with the second – arriving before the summer break – likened to having a B-spec car. Norris says such talk gives him confidence.
“I have high hopes not only for next season but this season too,” he insists. “I’m not saying we’re going to be winning races. But in terms of finishing the year with confidence, so we can go into a new year in the best shape possible, I’m confident about that.”
They are certainly running out of excuses not to. McLaren have the wind tunnel now. They have the driver line-up. They have carried out their strategic review and done their (latest) reshuffle. They don’t yet have an engine partner for the 2026 regulations but Brown says he is working on that, including talking with Red Bull Powertrains.
Now, they simply have to move forward.
In some ways it is fitting that their latest rebuild starts here. Melbourne was a key staging post in the story of McLaren’s downfall. Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification in 2009 for “deliberately misleading” stewards on the team’s instructions, proved enough for Max Mosley to finally see off Ron Dennis for good. McLaren’s long-time leader had already stepped down as team principal, ceding the reins to Martin Whitmarsh, following his run-ins with the FIA over Spygate and the monumental fine that incurred.
Fifteen years later, a very different-looking McLaren are hoping they finally have their house in order. Only time will tell if they do.