Formula 1: Lando Norris' McLaren seat suddenly at risk?

Lando Norris was recently injured away from the race track, a scenario that cost David Malukas his McLaren job. Is Norris' Formula 1 seat at risk?
Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1
Lando Norris, McLaren, Formula 1 / BSR Agency/GettyImages

McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris, who remains in pursuit of his first Grand Prix victory since joining the team in 2019, was recently injured.

While partying on a boat in Amsterdam during the off week between the Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai International Circuit and the upcoming Miami Grand Prix at Miami International Autodrome, he suffered a facial injury.

The belief is that a shard of glass cut his nose, leaving him in an interesting looking bandage afterward.

Lando Norris' McLaren seat at risk?

Given McLaren's cutthroat standard when it comes to driver contracts, which has not always come across as "doing right by their drivers", could Norris be at risk of losing his Formula 1 seat?

I would love to sit here and say that this is more a question of sarcasm and poking fun of the team for this "standard" of not allowing drivers to live lives away from the race track.

But this an organization whose IndyCar program just dropped David Malukas, their big offseason acquisition, after he missed his fourth race at Barber Motorsports Park following an offseason wrist injury he suffered while mountain biking. It wasn't even the fourth points race of the season; it was the third.

The worst part of it is that all indications point toward them knowing it all along, as much as it was deemed a "tough decision". As soon as it emerged as a possibility in Long Beach one weekend prior, when Malukas was initially expected to return, the writing was on the wall.

Malukas himself was reportedly made aware of their final decision until the Barber race, yet they wasted no time in making it afterward.

Malukas had been under the impression that a return was possible, albeit unlikely, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in under two weeks.

His sudden social media blackout on Sunday night was telling, and suddenly the 2022 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Award wasn't the biggest snub of his IndyCar career.

Yet after stating that they supported his recovery, which was admittedly not expected to take this long, McLaren decided they were better off without him -- on the same day their three cars failed to secure a single top 21 finish in a 27-car race.

Within hours of becoming legally able to do so, they released him.

This is a team that is considered one of IndyCar's top teams, despite the fact that they have zero wins by drivers not named Pato O'Ward, and even O'Ward hasn't earned a win on the race track in two years. That win came because of a fluke shock failure in a rival car that was dominating the race.

Yet uncertainty over Malukas was the problem?

Back to Lando Norris...

Given McLaren's history of handling driver contracts and how they were apparently waiting for Malukas to miss that fourth race so they could trigger that part of his deal, it is a question that needs to be asked about Norris.

Norris isn't expected to miss time, and nobody anywhere has actually suggested that his seat is at risk. It would be foolish to suggest it.

But what happens if he goes partying again and suffers another injury? What happens if he misses a race? What is buried in his contract, even though it is publicly said to extend through 2026?

One would think that a clause like the one in Malukas' deal would be pretty standard in a McLaren contract at this point. They didn't just randomly throw it in there on the weird premonition that he was about to get injured before the season.

I read a comment from a concerned Oscar Piastri fan that the same thing could happen to Norris' teammate if he ends up in a similar situation. And I can't sit here and say for sure that it couldn't.

A lot of the individuals trying to justify the Malukas decision are pointing at the fact that he took a risk by biking during the offseason, something that had nothing to do with his racing career. But he theoretically could have slipped on a banana peel and suffered the same injury -- also away from the race track. A business decision is a business decision.

To echo some of the nonsense being spewed about Malukas on social media, Norris "shouldn't have been doing it!", right?

And we're pretty sure that Oliver Askew's contract didn't prohibit him from running the 2020 Indy 500, when he suffered his injury. But the PR-approved answer was that he "lied" about not having a concussion and that's why he was dropped prematurely.

It's ironic: Askew gets cut after rushing back, Malukas gets cut after not rushing back.

You don't have to look far beyond Malukas and Askew to find examples of this particular organization making these types of decisions. On the IndyCar side, they dropped James Hinchcliffe after the 2019 season when he was under the impression that he had been retained following the partnership between McLaren and existing team Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

That too was indeed a business decision.

More recently, they had convinced Daniel Ricciardo, their only Formula 1 winner since 2012, in 2022 that the seat was his for 2023, when he was still under contract.

Ricciardo even put out a statement on August 5 of that year in an attempt to stop the rumors, because it's what he legitimately believed.

Based on the timing of the Alex Palou drama that summer, when both the Arrow McLaren and Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar teams announced that he had committed to them for 2023, McLaren had also apparently informed him that he was a candidate for Ricciardo's Formula 1 seat.

All the while, it had been promised to neither driver; Piastri, who was then an Alpine Academy driver, had already agreed to terms with the team for 2023 and beyond. Ricciardo was dropped after 2022.

And of course, when that all came to light the following year, after Chip Ganassi Racing did end up retaining Palou, the Spaniard made the understandable decision to re-sign with Chip Ganassi's team for 2024 and beyond, knowing he had no shot at a McLaren Formula 1 ride.

McLaren are now trying to sue the two-time IndyCar champion for $30 million for breach of contract, because clearly he's the bad guy here, right?

The irony of it all is that Malukas got the seat the Arrow McLaren wanted for Palou, and after zero starts, he has been fired. Meanwhile, the No. 6 Chevrolet is still seeking its first top 10 finish of the season, and it's lower in the entrant standings than Malukas ever finished in two years with an inferior Dale Coyne Racing team.

But surely the driver who scored Dale Coyne's team two podium finishes in two years wouldn't have been able to change that when healthy.

The timing of it all makes it almost seem like the top brass never really wanted him as their driver and they would have preferred Callum Ilott, one of Malukas' replacement drivers, had they known that he was going to become available.

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Norris' seat is not in any way, shape, or form at risk. But the Malukas situation serves as a reminder that just because you think you've signed a multi-year deal with McLaren, you better read the fine print. Because they can and will take advantage of it when it comes to making a tough decision, as cruel as it may seem.