Formula 1: Where does Lando Norris’s new deal leave Mercedes?

Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1 (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1 (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images) /

With Lando Norris having signed a contract extension with McLaren, where does this leave Mercedes for the next few Formula 1 seasons?

Earlier this week, Lando Norris signed a multi-year deal with McLaren to continue driving for the Woking-based team after the his fabulous start to the 2021 Formula 1 season.

Norris scored his second career podium finish at Imola and finds himself in fourth place in the driver standings with three other points-scoring finishes so far this year.

This has earned the 21-year-old Somerset driver an early contract extension as he continues to enjoy a prosperous relationship with the team.

Norris has proven himself already in his short Formula 1 career, but in his statement yesterday, he made his ambitions with McLaren pretty clear.

"“My commitment to McLaren is clear: my goal is to win races and become Formula 1 World Champion and I want to do that with this team. Since joining in 2017 our progression has been consistent and we have clear ambitions together for the future.”"

McLaren have been on an upward trajectory since 2019 when Norris joined the team. Before then, he had been a McLaren-affiliated driver since he was karting, the same way that seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was so rigorously honed.

Prior to the deal being announced to the paddock in Monte Carlo, there had been rumors that Norris could drive for Mercedes in the near future.

Now with that option having been struck out, where does that leave Mercedes?

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The reality is that Hamilton will retire from Formula 1 in the next few years. At 36 years old and with all the success and money that anyone could wish for, what is there left for him to prove?

But when he does, Mercedes could well find themselves outgunned by their rivals, who have all committed to their young and hungry drivers.

As well as Norris at McLaren until at least 2023, Max Verstappen has a Red Bull contract that runs through 2023 and Charles Leclerc is set to remain at Ferrari until through 2024 after he signed the a massive contract extension after his stellar 2019 season.

Mercedes do have one clear option who is young, hungry and has a track record of beating his fellow Brit in the junior formulae: George Russell.

But after the incident at Imola combined with the huge respect that Valtteri Bottas has earned at Mercedes, the Silver Arrows are unlikely to take a punt on Russell while Hamilton remains at the team.

This could mean that, like with Esteban Ocon at Alpine, Mercedes could find themselves having to surrender George Russell to one of their rivals, whether that is to Ferrari for a possible Alfa Romeo seat or to Aston Martin. The Brackley-based team could have to give up one of their keys to the kingdom.

With that being said, it could be that Mercedes finally need to sign Russell for 2022, since Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren have all secured their top drivers with bright futures ahead.

From Mercedes’ point of view, they do not see the need to sign Russell at the moment with Hamilton managing to win the title every season and Bottas backing him up to ensure Mercedes claim both titles.

In last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix, Russell proved himself and really showed Bottas up after he was strapped into the car at the last minute; he truly outclassed his Finnish teammate.

So if Mercedes were to be left without Russell, this could leave Mercedes in a very tricky situation post-Hamilton, which makes the Norris announcement all the more telling.

This will be a test for where Mercedes’ priorities lie: keeping Hamilton at all costs, or securing a driver pairing that will help them maintain their success?

While Bottas is a great number two driver for Mercedes, he is unlikely to win in a straight fight with Verstappen, Leclerc or Norris if Red Bull, Ferrari or McLaren have the machinery to compete.

As for McLaren, they have secured their star driver alongside proven race winner Daniel Ricciardo, and should they bring themselves back into the title hunt in the coming years, it is clear that they have the drivers to do the job. And with the rule changes for 2022, this could be their chance to take that next step.

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As for Mercedes, will they finally bite and invest in the future, or have they been outfoxed in the driver merry-go-round? Time will tell…