Is McLaren’s star line-up venturing towards an F1 headache?

Over the last handful of weeks, McLaren has captured the headlines as its Formula 1 recovery has gone from strength to strength.

After starting the current campaign on the back foot and languishing towards the rear of the grid, subsequent upgrades have lifted its car up the grid and into an area of respectable competitiveness.

Lando Norris scored the team’s first podium of the year with second at Silverstone and followed it up with another second-place result in Hungary two weeks later.

The Briton had the measure of his rookie team-mate Oscar Piastri in the early rounds of the campaign and continued to display himself as the leading driver through the first half of the year.

This was still the case when Piastri added the first podium trophy to his collection in Japan, with Norris passing the Australian on track after negotiating with his team that he had pace in hand that was being stunted by being stuck behind his team-mate.

But Qatar was different – it has been a rarity over the last couple of years, but Norris seemed to be under pressure.

Not only that, he made mistakes in the heat of the moment.

The 23-year-old felt that he should have taken pole position during qualifying and the Sprint Shootout and was confident that he could have converted both into race wins.

Instead, he had his best lap time deleted during qualifying after breaching track limits while he ran wide at the final corner while being on course for the fastest lap in the Sprint Shootout.

Piastri got the measure of him on both occasions and triumphed in the sprint race for his first ‘F1 win’.

The pace that has been on display all season was backed up nicely by a mature drive, aided over the line by the growth that he has taken on board this year.

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Piastri putting Norris under pressure

Piastri has been the subject of detailed scrutiny this year owing to the surreal circumstances that led him to make his F1 debut with McLaren rather than Alpine.

The squabble that two organisations had over his services before he had even turned a wheel during a race weekend spoke volumes about how highly rated he was and his performances this year showcase why he was so in demand.

A gap has existed to Norris this year, but there was little expectation that Piastri would be able to out-perform him immediately.

Norris is now regarded as one of the top talents on the grid and is no doubt the “lead” driver at McLaren given his experience and the results he has manifested during his five seasons with the Woking squad.

Piastri’s signing was a risk for McLaren as it displaced the experience of Daniel Ricciardo (who was no doubt underperforming) with the youth of Piastri.

McLaren has been on a path to recovery, having been uncompetitive for large parts of the turbo hybrid era. Its new direction with a young driver line-up at the forefront of its operations, was an aggressive approach. But so far, it has been one that has worked out.

Piastri has shown strong development over the year and last time out in Qatar, he enjoyed his strongest weekend to date, continuing to reward McLaren’s faith in him.

The car is strong, McLaren’s factory efforts can’t be faulted and its driver pairing has been a fresh of breath air.

But how long will that last?

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Challenges for McLaren?

Now three-time F1 World Champion Max Verstappen recently declared that McLaren has “the best driver line-up out of all of them”, referring to Red Bull’s rivals.

On the face of it, it seems a bold claim when you consider that Mercedes has Lewis Hamilton/George Russell and Ferrari fields Charles Leclerc/ Carlos Sainz.

But there is an argument for McLaren having the strongest line-up in the field, especially when you consider the performances in recent races that saw it take back-to-back double podiums – its first since 2010.

At 23 and 21 respectively, Norris and Piastri will only continue to get better. Both still have adequate room to learn in F1 and have already showcased abilities that suggest they can be top performers in the series.

While there is harmony for the time being, it may offer challenges to the team going forward. Piastri is contracted to McLaren until the end of 2026 after recently signing an extension while Norris will be staying put until at least the conclusion of the 2025 campaign.

McLaren’s ascending development path will hopefully one day lead it to a return to front-running competition and offer a more unpredictable spectacle in comparison to the Red Bull steamroll this year.

Should it get there with two drivers that have developed into heavyweights, it may be cause for concern at McLaren. Rarely does two titans within one team work out.

McLaren has a history with this most famously through the Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna days, and even during Hamilton’s rookie year when he was paired alongside Fernando Alonso.

If both drivers wish to assert themselves as the team leader, McLaren may be forced to intervene – however, any such order has the potential to make the situation even uglier.

McLaren is not there yet, but it has two fantastic young drivers at the centre-piece of its set-up.

Should they continue to develop, is there any situation in which it doesn’t result in a fallout and a departure from one of the parties?

It isn’t a concern as it stands, but it is a situation that McLaren should likely prepare for – or else it risks losing everything it has built towards.

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