How pressure is creating diamonds at McLaren

There was a bit of a theme among some of the pre-season predictions this year centered around the dynamic between Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

The young Australian’s strong rookie season was great for McLaren, as it signalled a formidable line-up that it has locked down for years to come. But Norris had offered up a number of apologies for small mistakes – mainly in qualifying – towards the end of 2023, and it just raised the question of whether he is feeling a little bit of pressure.

By his own refreshing admission, he does see Piastri as the biggest threat to his reputation since entering Formula 1 himself in 2019.


“I’ll just be honest and say yes,” Norris tells RACER. “Because (the expectation) is (on me), it always is. I’ve never been afraid to say it, because it’s the truth. Your biggest threat is always your teammate, in terms of how you perform.

“It never means you go against each other. It’s just the person you compare to the most, and the person other people compare you to the most is your teammate. So you always think like that. And he’s doing a very good job and he’s pushing me more than I’ve been pushed over the last few years. That’s a good thing; a good thing for me.”

But both drivers can be pleased with how they’ve handled the situation so far. Piastri has been close to Norris at all times and beat him in Saudi Arabia, but it’s the more experienced of the two who took the first podium on offer in Melbourne, and had the upper hand in Bahrain.

Norris got the upper hand in Bahrain as well as Australia. Andy Hone/Motorsport Images

Piastri sits a point ahead of Norris at this early stage of the season, but instead of that being a negative, the Briton feels the overall performance is helping both of them raise their game.

“I think just the level is higher, more than feeling like I have to suddenly do more,” he says. “The bar is a little bit higher, there’s just a little bit more focus. My job is always try and drive as quickly as I can, it’s just when you have a better teammate, there’s just some more areas you learn ‘OK, maybe you can do a bit more of this or a bit more of that’, and there’s always a place that he’s gonna be quicker. So you can always learn from that.

“You always have a little bit of that, but I still come into the weekend the same way – that’s always been to work as hard as I can with the group around me to get the most out of myself. As simple as that.”

The focus on the McLaren pair is also arguably greater because of the position that the team has progressed into. A year ago it was miles off the pace and struggling to escape Q1, but by mid-season it was a regular podium contender. That’s something it has maintained over the off-season and marks the biggest difference between the current team and previous iterations of McLaren that Norris has been part of.

Since then the 24-year-old has committed his long-term future to the team, and admits the way 2023 eventually panned out played a part in him doing so.

“I think last year was kind of the year which kind of decided a bit more what was going to happen,” he says. “Because if we still struggled last year just as much as we did at the beginning, and we didn’t really turn things around, then I think things could be potentially quite different.

“So I think last year was a deciding… like an important year for the team to kind of show what they were capable of doing. Because that was then five years of improving a bit, like taking a step back, improving a bit, step back, and not cementing it and consistently moving forward.

“And I think that’s the thing we’ve kind of missed. For the first time we’ve done it from last year to this year a bit more. So that’s really been the biggest thing. But last year was an important year for the team to show them that they can do the steps that they need to do.”

The consolidation of McLaren’s position in the pecking order this year has still come with the caveat that there were development items that were not yet ready for the launch specification of car, and will be delivered later in the season.

McLaren’s turnaround began in Austria last year. Andy Hone/Motorsport Images

It’s not the same situation as a year ago, when it took until the Austrian Grand Prix in the middle of the European season to make a step, but it does mean there are upgrades due around the Miami weekend next month that could move McLaren further forward.

For Norris, it’s important that expectations are kept in check given where the team currently finds itself and the scope for improvement, but he’s hopeful that the coming months will see a continuation of the momentum that McLaren has built up under Andrea Stella.

“I still want to believe that, for sure,” he says. “I think to achieve what we did last year is impossible, because that was such a big jump, because we had such a bad car! It’s much easier to do that than to have a good car and make it an insanely good car, you know?

“Everything starts to plateau a little bit. But there’s still plenty of things that we’re looking into and we know we have coming. Pure developments, improving everything a bit on the car, focusing on certain areas; things that I’ve been struggling with quite a bit over the last few years, and things that we’ve not been able to really tackle.

“Now that we’re in a better place, and we can have more focus on specific areas rather than just going ‘we just need a good car’. These are extra things which allow me to push more or be more consistent and extract more from the car itself, which will lead to more performance.

“So now we’re starting to attack some of those areas, which again will take time, that also gives me some good feelings of what we can we can achieve together.”

For now “together” includes the teammate that is pushing Norris so hard. He and Piastri enjoy a strong relationship and have worked well together on track – the latest example came as the pair chased a podium in Melbourne, where Piastri fully understood the need for him to move aside for Norris based on strategy decisions.

The only remaining test for the pair is if McLaren delivers a regular race-winning car, but for now the partnership sees each only serving to further strengthen the other’s reputation.

Story originally appeared on Racer