Lando Norris labored home in 8th at the Spanish GP in his McLaren in what was a drive worthy of being, the best of the day. Yet, there wasn't much joy or happiness as Norris, arguably one of the brightest talents on the grid, fought tooth and nail with the midfield contenders to secure what was nothing more than a handful of points for his effort. In what is his fourth F1 season, the Briton has firmly established himself as one of the best drivers on the grid.
His consistency, racecraft, and speed are amongst the best on the grid at the moment. Last season, he was ranked the third-best driver on the grid by his fellow drivers. Yet, Norris drives a car that is arguably the fifth or sixth fastest in Barcelona. A driver as young, promising, and proven on the grid as he is, should be fighting for race wins, podiums, and the title. Norris, however, might just have dug his own grave by tying himself to a long-term contract at McLaren.
What is the contract situation for Lando Norris?
Earlier this season, Lando Norris signed a contract extension with McLaren to ensure his services with the team until the 2025 season. The contract means that Norris will be part of the Woking-based squad for four more years to add to the three years that he has already spent with the team.
Now, for a talent as big as Norris, signing a long-term contract makes sense if there is a strong possibility of the team fighting for the title soon. Signing a contract with a team like McLaren that has one win and one pole position in the turbo-hybrid era and has not finished higher than 3rd in the championship for close to a decade is a questionable tactic.
This was a team that was surging last season as it was right on the precipice of transitioning from being a midfield contender to a frontrunner. The 2022 F1 season, however, has been an eye-opener for the Woking-based squad.
The 2022 F1 season has been a disappointment
Last season, McLaren was considered to be one of the dark horses for the new set of regulations. The team was part of a group of frontrunners in Ferrari and Red Bull and the midfield teams that included Alpine and Aston Martin.
The Woking-based squad was part of a group alongside Ferrari that was a few tenths slower than the front-running teams and a few tenths faster than the midfield. Lando Norris then secured 4 podium finishes and a pole position with his team constantly benefiting whenever the two front teams slipped up.
There were flashes of that happening at Imola this season, where Norris scored his only podium of the season. Overall, however, even though the team is still fourth in the championship standings, it has not shown improvement in terms of competitiveness.
Instead of taking a step forward and challenging the frontrunners (something Ferrari has done), the team has taken a step back and is fighting in the midfield cluster.
Gaping holes at McLaren will take far too long to plug
The 2022 F1 season has been an eye-opener in so many ways. One thing that is painfully obvious and would need attention is the McLaren MCL36's lack of downforce as compared to even Mercedes (the 3rd fastest team).
The car cannot compete with the top teams in either the fast or slow corners. This shows that McLaren's aero team right now is probably not as capable as some of the frontrunners. Moreover, despite budget caps, resources play a massive role, and teams like Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull take the cake on that front.
The 2022 season was supposed to be a launchpad for McLaren, but on the face of it, the aero team has produced a car that doesn't inspire confidence on the track or in the timesheets either. The challenger from Woking was more than a second slower than the frontrunners in Barcelona, and the path from that to the front of the grid is far too long.
A title run as a customer is not possible in this era
Finally, and probably most importantly, the biggest reason behind McLaren limiting its ceiling is its identity as a customer team. At this very moment, the top 3 teams on the grid are all works teams with their in-house power units, while McLaren is a Mercedes customer for now.
Let's assume a scenario in which the Woking-based squad plugs all the holes and produces a car that is potentially the fastest on the grid. At this point, will Mercedes be willing to swallow their pride and let their customer team beat them on the track? Or will Mercedes cut ties with its competitor and look for a completely different deal that compromises McLaren and leaves them with a massive disadvantage?
That's the same problem Red Bull faced when it cut all ties with Renault in 2017 and Ferrari and Mercedes were not willing to supply the team with their power units. McLaren, until it remains a customer team, will never be able to mount a sustained challenge at the front of the grid because neither of the power unit suppliers will have it in their interest to supply them.
What is Lando Norris going to do in the meanwhile?
Lando Norris is in a situation where he's committed to a team for the long term. The team, on the other hand, is showing signs of being unable to justify the faith Norris might have put in it. At this point, if we look back and question whether the young Briton was far too eager to sign such a long-term contract then the answer would have to be yes. Unless there is a performance clause that gives Norris the freedom to join a top team, this was a commitment that he made far too early.
What's your favorite race of the 2022 season so far? Tell us in the comments below..