Following recent races, it is clear that McLaren are the only team on the Formula 1 grid which appear set for the long-term future with two young drivers.
While the 2023 Formula 1 season has been labeled “boring” by some fans, the battle behind Red Bull and Max Verstappen has been intense all season long. Five different teams have finished a Grand Prix in second place through the first 12 races of the season, and six teams have had a driver finish on the podium.
The latest team to add their name to those lists is McLaren, which looked like arguably the slowest team on the grid when the season began back in early March at Bahrain International Circuit.
They introduced a set of upgrades to the MCL60 of Lando Norris for the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, and he rewarded the team with a season-best fourth place finish on a day when McLaren truly looked like the third fastest team on the grid.
Skip ahead one week later to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit, and they looked like the second fastest after implementing upgrades to rookie Oscar Piastri’s car as well. Norris qualified in second place while Piastri qualified in a career-high third, and Norris was able to lead the race’s first four laps.
Norris finished in second place, but a late safety car dropped Piastri from third to fourth, still by far a career-best result. At the Hungaroring, Norris placed second again, with Piastri in fifth after running second early on, and Piastri went on to lead laps in the sprint race at Spa en route to a second place finish.
All things considered, McLaren finally look like a true factor in Formula 1 again, something that hasn’t been the case for over a decade.
What’s better for the Woking-based team is the fact that they now have a proven luxury that no other Formula 1 team has.
Unlike every other team on the grid, McLaren have two young drivers on whom they can rely for the long haul.
Norris is only 23 years old and has long been seen as a driver who can contend for wins and championships if given the right car.
Let’s not forget that Verstappen was viewed the same way before Red Bull re-emerged as a true power in recent years, and Norris recently admitted that Verstappen encouraged him to keep the faith in McLaren, citing some of the doubts he had about Red Bull a few years ago when they weren’t winning more than a handful of races each year.
As long as McLaren remain competitive, Norris has no reason not to extend his contract beyond 2025, ending silly season speculation about where he might end up next.
As for Piastri, there were still some question marks, especially with how many drivers have been linked to McLaren’s second seat over the last year and a half. As a rookie in a non-competitive car, he had not yet been able to showcase his true potential.
Even in a competitive car, we have seen young drivers struggle to do what they’re expected to do, as races aren’t run on paper. Look no further than Pierre Gasly or Alex Albon at Red Bull. As promising as they were with Toro Rosso, they simply couldn’t cut it at the top team.
But in his first few races in an actually decent car, Piastri has driven like a seasoned veteran. If not for the late safety car at Silverstone, his first taste of a good Formula 1 car would have resulted in a podium finish behind two of the proven fastest drivers on the grid.
It should not have come as much of a surprise to fans who followed his dominant junior career, but now he has proven what he is capable of in competitive Formula 1 machinery.
Unlike others, he clearly isn’t the kind of driver who is going to be in over his head and make silly mistakes in an attempt to get more out of the car than is actually there.
And he’s still just 22 years old.
With two young, fast, and reliable drivers, McLaren have a luxury that nobody else has, as long as their pace proves not to have been fluke.
Red Bull have Verstappen, but what does Sergio Perez’s future hold? Ferrari have Charles Leclerc, provided he wants to stay amid the team’s drastic step back from last year, but what about Carlos Sainz Jr.? Mercedes have George Russell, but how much longer will Lewis Hamilton compete?
Aside from McLaren and Ferrari, there are only two other teams on the grid with two drivers under the age of 30, those being Alpine and Williams.
Alpine are probably set for the near future, as both Gasly and Esteban Ocon have performed better than many expected they would together, but Williams are also facing some question marks. Is Logan Sargeant really their best option alongside Albon, and is Albon even a lock to stay?
Every other team on the grid has at least one driver on the older end of the spectrum and/or at last one driver who simply hasn’t performed well, and Formula 1 can be an unforgiving business when it comes to lack of results.
But none of these potential question marks are question marks McLaren should have to worry about, provided they stay on the right path and continue to fight at the front.