Mark Hughes: Why Norris picked McLaren over Red Bull

Mark Hughes: Why Norris picked McLaren over Red Bull

Lando Norris has made a brave call here. But when you talk with the senior people at McLaren, it’s easy to see why the team has inspired such confidence within him; it feels like a team going places, with a vision and a clear idea of how to achieve it.

Also it has been his home for all these years, he feels great loyalty to the people and the idea of turning his back on all that probably didn’t give him a nice feeling.

But still: he could probably have got himself a Red Bull drive if he’d so desired.

Both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko are big fans and Max Verstappen often voices how he rates him as one of the very best. Lando would have been pushing against an open door.

But he’s chosen not to do that. His previous deal expired at the end of ’25 and his new one is described as ‘multi-year’ – so we can confidently say he will be at McLaren alongside Oscar Piastri well into the new PU era, set to begin in ’26.

There’s stability there and balance. Team boss Andrea Stella has ushered in a McLaren era of harmony in his bid to return the team to fighting for world championships and Norris’ personality – just like Piastri’s – fits into that perfectly.

It’s an environment set up to extract the best from the brilliant array of talents within the team and have them aligned in the same direction.

But is that same nice guy persona the reason he has not ruthlessly gone for a seat alongside Verstappen in the team generally recognised as the best? Is that not what any hard-headed, psychologically airtight competitor would do if the opportunity was there?

Would they not go in there, confident they can beat anyone and that the only reason they are not already a world champion is they’ve never had the equipment? Maybe, and maybe that’s where they would come undone.

For being measured against Verstappen in his own environment, regardless of how confident and how good you are, would be an extreme test.

Maybe, just maybe, Norris’ decision reflects a shrewder intelligence unrelated to self-confidence. He perhaps feels his own potential can be more readily accessed in the McLaren environment – and that all he was waiting for was to be convinced that McLaren had within it the stuff of future championships.

The spectacular turnaround in form last season, becoming Red Bull’s closest rival for much of the second half of the season, has perhaps allowed him the luxury of not having to make that painful break.

Surrounded by the key people he’s been with throughout his five years in F1, and with the technical core of the team now beginning to blossom, he can perhaps reach a level of personal performance that might be out of reach at a less familiar environment which has come to be centred around the guy on the other side of the garage.

F1 is a complex business and psychology plays an enormous part in performance.

But as for Norris’ outright ability, there’s no question it’s of a calibre which in a different competitive landscape would have seen him fighting for titles for several seasons already.

He’s incredibly quick, very adaptive, great with the tyres and super-smart in his racecraft. He’s also extremely self-critical and uses that as competitive fuel to improve himself. He’s often put a less than stellar McLaren in places it had no right being and once last year’s car was improved, he was relentlessly at or around the front, Verstappen’s most consistent pursuer and occasional threat.

Back in ’21, but for a less grippy grid side start at Monza and a team communication blunder at Sochi, he could conceivably have won two consecutive grands prix in a car that was not the fastest.

Some may point to Sochi ’21 – when he led from pole until near the end and lost out through not making a change from slicks as rain arrived – as evidence of a weakness under pressure.

It was the first time he’d been in position to win a grand prix and he failed to convert it; that much is true. But the specifics of the situation were about him not being informed that the radar showed there was a second shower on the way.

There were a couple of times last year when rookie team-mate Piastri was ahead of him that he made an error – and perhaps that might be used as evidence against his status as a champion-in-waiting.

But that really would be nit-picking. They are the sort of small detail flaws that would surely be annealed away once he began winning in a fully competitive car.

That’s also when he’d be able to banish from his mind any thoughts of whether he’d made a mistake in not getting his bum in a Red Bull. He’s got it within him, but will it happen?

McLaren and Norris both have much to prove. But there’s tantalising evidence to suggest they are on the cusp of something special together.


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