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Is McLaren yet to unlock Norris's full F1 potential?

McLaren is confident Lando Norris's potential has not been maximised yet as its star driver keeps chasing an elusive maiden Formula 1 win.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60

Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

Off the back of his most successful season in F1, Norris has strengthened his status as the Woking-based squad's lead driver, having scored more than twice as many points as rookie team-mate Oscar Piastri and achieved seven podium finishes – more than in his first four campaigns combined.

Yet, a feeling of unfinished business still predominates for team principal Andrea Stella, who feels the best is yet to come.

Albeit scoring points consistently, Norris alternated podiums with lower-key results and made a few costly mistakes: clipping the wall in Q1 at the Saudi Arabian GP, colliding at the start at Barcelona and crashing out of the inaugural Las Vegas GP.

Asked where Norris's mistakes came from, Stella said: “I don’t think there is a single element that one should identify on the track. I think that when you deal with champions, when you deal with delivering at such a high level in professional sport, you need to look at opportunities very holistically.

“And I think that things are also quite connected – like the physical state is connected with the mental state, which is connected with the well-being overall and the integration within the team. All these battles are very strong on Lando’s side.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, 2nd position,rea Stella, Team Principal, McLaren, Lando Norris, McLaren, 3rd position, with the trophies

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Andrea Stella with drivers Piastri and Norris

“It is just that the game is so competitive that you need to be at the top consistently. That’s what makes the difference. It’s not really the top potential. Especially for Lando, this is almost unexplored as to how good he is.   

“Sometimes he surprises us with some of the performances he can put together. Think about the pole position in the sprint in Brazil after he had lost two, three tenths in the first sector. How did he manage to put it on pole in the other five corners? That was just amazing.  

“But consistency in this kind of delivery is what makes the difference. And I think that Max [Verstappen] is really establishing new standards in terms of how consistently you can perform strongly.”

Max Verstappen achieved a remarkable 21 podium finishes in 22 races last year, surpassing his own unprecedented 18 top-three finishes in 2021.

Meanwhile, Norris holds the unwanted records of most podiums (13) and points scored (633) without any victories, the former shared with Nick Heidfeld.

Lando Norris, McLaren, 2nd position, on the podium

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Norris has become a podium regular, though not on the top step

After losing out at the 2021 Italian GP (where he was beaten to the win by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo) and Russian GP (where he went off the track and lost the lead following a weather gamble), the McLaren driver was less than four seconds off Verstappen at Silverstone last year and challenged Carlos Sainz for victory down to the wire in Singapore.

Will self-critical Norris be more relaxed once he gets his maiden win out of the way? “I think the first victory is always somehow the most important, no?” Stella replied. “Because it comes with some confidence. I think some other things come slightly easier.

“But, at the moment, I would say the main reason why this has not been possible is because we have not put Lando in conditions to consistently compete for the victory.

“So, when Lando wins his first race, [it] will be a beautiful moment. He is ready for that. It’s more about us being ready [and] delivering the car that allows him to take the opportunities.”

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Unexpectedly, Piastri managed to win an F1 race before his more experienced team-mate when he finished first in the Losail sprint.

However, when asked how much of a headache it would be if Piastri were to take a maiden grand prix victory before Norris, Stella retorted: “When you asked about Oscar getting his first victory and were talking about getting a headache, my reaction wasn’t a headache. I was like: ‘Wow, I look forward to it’.

“It would be an incredible result considering what we saw last year with Red Bull, where there wasn’t really much space left for anybody else.   

“So, I think if we have a victory from Oscar, that would be an incredible emotion and it would be an incredible emotion for Lando as well, because it means we have a car that can win races.   

“If I project myself for one second into Lando’s head, I think I would recognise how fair of a competitor he is. He’s a very fair person and he would ask himself ‘what do I need to do better to do the same as Oscar has been able to do?’.”

Making sure Red Bull doesn't lure Norris away

Lando Norris, McLaren, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Erik Junius

Verstappen having a chat with Norris in Zandvoort

Having gone from struggling to score points in the first half of the 2023 season to becoming a consistent podium challenger, McLaren may need to take a step forward this year to ensure it retains Norris's services.

Although the Englishman is contracted until the end of 2025, Red Bull is known to be keen to make him Verstappen's team-mate in the future.

“All we need to keep doing is giving him the environment he wants to be in,” Stella claimed, in a very similar stance to CEO Zak Brown. “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.”

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