Red Bull’s golden opportunity to beat Merc to Norris signature

Red Bull might just have a golden opportunity to sign Lando Norris before Mercedes - and it's one they shouldn’t pass up, writes’s Lewis Larkam.
Red Bull’s golden opportunity to beat Merc to Norris signature

Andreas Seidl’s departure from McLaren after nearly four years at the helm was the biggest shock of a dramatic F1 managerial merry-go-round that has dominated what was supposed to be a quiet off-season. 

Seidl’s fast-tracked move to Sauber to replace Ferrari-bound Frederic Vasseur and ready the team ahead of Audi’s arrival in 2026 is a big blow for McLaren heading into 2023. Given Seidl was such a fundamental part of McLaren’s recent revival, the German’s exit can only be viewed as a setback. 

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​​​​​​​It is also bad news for Norris, who, on the eve of the 2022 season, put pen to paper on a new long-term deal that matched the commitment of both Seidl and McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown.

Less than a year later and Seidl has jumped ship to another project. McLaren may well have confidence that their quest back to the top in F1 will be unaffected, but Seidl’s departure does leave question marks. 

It is hoped that a major infrastructure upgrade - underpinned by a new wind tunnel in Woking that is on track to be completed at some stage in 2023 - will bring McLaren on a par with other big teams and enable them to take that next big step. 

But with Seidl leaving, does it suggest he sees more potential in Audi’s F1 plans? If so, where does that leave Norris’ own faith? And how long is he willing to give McLaren? 

The Briton has not hidden his frustration at McLaren sliding behind midfield rivals Alpine to fifth place in the 2022 constructors’ championship, and he will be expecting improvements next season. 

Red Bull’s golden opportunity to beat Merc to Norris signature

After all, this is a driver whose sparkling performances at just 23 years of age continue to enhance his stock and underline his status as one of the most desirable drivers on the grid. 

Red Bull are one of the teams known to be interested in Norris, and it would not be a surprise to see him on Mercedes’ radar as a potential replacement for Lewis Hamilton, whenever the seven-time world champion decides to call time on his career. Audi will also be on the lookout for a star driver in 2026 (which just so happens to be when Norris becomes a free agent) and Seidl could be a pull factor. 

In an interview with German publication Auto Motor und Sport, Norris revealed he spoke with Red Bull about becoming Max Verstappen’s teammate before committing to fresh terms with McLaren that reportedly sees him pocket £20m a year until the end of 2025. 

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner later confirmed the Milton Keynes side had spoken to Norris a “couple of times”, only for the Briton to almost immediately sign a new contract with McLaren. 

Red Bull’s sister team, AlphaTauri (then Toro Rosso), was also interested in signing Norris when he was racing in F2 in 2018, the year before he made his F1 debut with McLaren. 

With Norris desperate to be fighting at the front of the F1 grid as soon as possible, McLaren in a state of uncertainty, and Mercedes’ driver line-up seemingly locked-out for the next couple of years at least, now might just be the best time to make a move for him. 

Would a Verstappen-Norris dynamic work? 

Sergio Perez (MEX), Red Bull Racing Lando Norris (GBR), McLaren F1 Team and Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull Racing Formula
Sergio Perez (MEX), Red Bull Racing Lando Norris (GBR), McLaren F1 Team…

Arguably, the biggest question mark surrounding such a move is whether a partnership consisting of Verstappen and Norris would work. 

Both are extremely competitive and have similar desires for success. It is rare that two ‘alpha drivers’ are able to coexist harmoniously within a top team. More often than not, it leads to irreparable conflict and toxic friction. 

That is why, on paper, the duo of Verstappen and Sergio Perez works well. A driver of Verstappen’s calibre will bag most of the wins and act as the team’s lead hope in the drivers’ title fight, while Perez has demonstrated he can be relied on to score podiums and points on a consistent basis to boost Red Bull’s own championship prospects. 

Verstappen and Perez enjoyed a strong relationship until their fallout over a team orders row at the penultimate round of the 2022 season in Brazil, which has left some doubt about the relations between the Verstappen and Perez camps going into 2023, despite Red Bull’s best attempts to extinguish the flames. 

Perez holds a contract with Red Bull through to the end of 2024 but it is by no means watertight. Were his performances to slip, or should things go downhill with Verstappen next year, Red Bull may reconsider their options. 

Having rejoined Red Bull as a third driver, McLaren outcast Daniel Ricciardo might well be pinning his hopes of an F1 comeback in 2024 on things going pear-shaped between Verstappen and Perez. 

The Australian would provide a solid stop-gap, but Red Bull should be focusing all their efforts on poaching Norris - before a rival gets there first. 

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL36 and Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21,
Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL36 and Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing…

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