While it may be damaging to Ferrari, McLaren’s recent resurgence may be great news for Charles Leclerc and his future in Formula 1.
After opening up the 2023 Formula 1 season looking like arguably the slowest team on the grid, McLaren have emerged as arguably the strongest team behind Red Bull and perhaps even the team most likely to end the Milton Keynes-based team’s record-breaking win streak.
The team applied a set of upgrades to the MCL60 of Lando Norris ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, and he rewarded the Woking-based organization with a season-high fourth place finish. These upgrades were put in place ahead of schedule, and they still paid off.
Ahead of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit, the team applied the same set of upgrades to rookie Oscar Piastri’s car. Norris qualified in second place ahead of Piastri in a career-high third. Norris went on to lead a handful of laps en route to a second place finish, while Piastri would have finished in third if not for a late safety car. He still finished in a career-high fourth.
McLaren proved their newfound pace was no fluke in the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring.
Norris again tied his best career finish with a second place result, marking the first time in his career he has ever recorded back-to-back podium finishes, and Piastri, who ran second before the opening round of pit stops, finished in fifth, further exemplifying the fact that he can perform well when given a competitive car and isn’t prone to rookie mistakes like a number of other drivers.
Piastri then scored a runner-up finish in the sprint race at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, marking his first ever top three finish of any kind in Formula 1.
McLaren’s recent resurgence has put them in a great place for the future. In addition to their increase in pace, the team have two young drivers who are fully capable of capitalizing on this resurgence and potentially bringing the organization back to its glory days.
Norris is just 23 years old and Piastri is just 22. All things considered, no other team is in quite the position that McLaren are in when it comes to having this luxury.
As a result, the biggest beneficiary of McLaren’s recent resurgence might just be Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
There were recent reports that Red Bull had approached both Norris and Leclerc about potentially replacing Sergio Perez alongside Verstappen in the 2025 season.
Perez’s contract is set to expire at the end of 2024, and both Formula 1 owners Liberty Media and the Milton Keynes-based team themselves are said to want to create a “dream team” in an effort to create as competitive of a world championship battle as possible.
With McLaren suddenly having emerged as a competitive team, would Norris, who joined the team in 2019, really give up on them at this point?
His contract with McLaren only ends after the 2025 season, though there had been speculation that he would be allowed to seek new opportunities before 2025 if McLaren weren’t able to provide him with a competitive car.
Norris recently revealed that Verstappen encouraged him to keep the faith in the team, as Verstappen himself had doubts about sticking with Red Bull a few years back. His decision to stay has certainly paid off. Now Norris’s decision is starting to look similar.
As for Leclerc, he remains under contract with Ferrari through the 2024 season, and there have been talks of an extension. However, those talks have quieted down in recent weeks, and it is no secret that he has grown increasingly frustrated with the team on many levels. Nothing has been signed.
After Leclerc looked like the early championship favorite in 2022, winning two of the season’s first three races, Ferrari have won just two total races since then. Leclerc hasn’t won a race in over a year, and the Italian team have fallen back in the pecking order and now look like the fourth strongest team at best.
With all things considered, does this make Leclerc the favorite to replace Perez come 2025?
It’s hard to predict what will happen more than a year from now, but amid McLaren’s resurgence, it certainly seems as if Leclerc would have more reason to leave his current team for the second Red Bull seat than Norris — or even Piastri.