Next year McLaren will have the youngest driver pairing in Formula 1 with Lando Norris and rookie Oscar Piastri, who have the team’s CEO Zak Brown bullish about their prospects in 2023.
Notably, the combined age of the two drivers in McLarens next year is 44 years; the oldest driver on the grid will be 41-year-old Fernando Alonso; which means that Piastri was born on 6 April 2001, a week before the San Marino Grand Prix, that year, in which the Spanish veteran was driving as a rookie for Minardi, his fourth F1 race!
That’s a massive gulf in experience and race mileage but does not in any way dampen Brown’s enthusiasm for the young pairing his team will run next year, confident that in 23-year-old Norris they have a proven, quick, and quality driver ready to go toe-to-toe with the big guys if he has the right car, while in the other car promising and highly-rated 21-year-old Piastri has a great deal to prove in the wake of his ‘extraction’ from Alpine.
When Norris lines up for the 2023 Formula 1 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix he will be starting his 90th Grand Prix with McLaren and is clearly the team’s number-one asset, according to Brown who said in a recent interview: “He’s just getting better and better.
“[Lando] puts together some amazing qualifying laps, I don’t think he gets enough credit for how awesome he can be when it’s time to set a lap time. We’ll be in FP3 and then ‘bang’ there it comes, in qualifying when he needs to do it in Q3, and ‘wow’ where’d that come from? He does that often.
“He makes very few mistakes, rarely makes a big mistake. If I look at when he started versus now, he’s got a very high level of confidence, but not arrogance and he’s definitely one with the team and the racing car. If I look at season one to now, his race craft is exponentially better,” revealed Brown.
Brown: Oscar is going to be a sensational racing driver
Norris was so good that he made once highly rated Daniel Ricciardo looks ordinary in the sister car, the younger driver blowing away his more experienced teammate by substantial margins on a regular basis. So much so that McLaren decided the big smiling Australian was no longer part of their plans, instead they had another Aussie in mind.
Thus a deal was done, for Dan to walk away from Woking a year earlier than expected, surfacing at Red Bull as the team’s reserve, with Piastri, poached from Alpine to fill the ‘shoeys’ of his predecessor
Brown reasoned: “We think Oscar is going to be a sensational racing driver, if you look at his career to date he’s won a lot of championships in his first year, which always tells you a driver’s special. He’s got a great mental approach to the sport.
“Now that we feel Lando has a lot of experience, we have a great blend of experience in youth. We sit here very excited about the potential of our driver lineup, of Lando and Oscar for the foreseeable future.”
That Piastri ousted a very popular driver in Ricciardo weighs on Brown, who recalled Dan’s win last year at the Italian Grand Prix and admitted: “It was tough. We all love Daniel, I mean, he’s such a great spirit in the garage and on the radio and at the MTC. But sometimes things, you know, don’t, don’t work out.
“It’s kind of a great mystery because he definitely has the talent. He showed us that at Monza, he’s won eight Grand Prix. That’s not one because everyone got wiped out and in turn one in Italy, he took the lead and he was gone.”
Brown: Greatness all looks the same regardless of what racing series you’re in
But Monza was a flash in the pan for Ricciardo, Brown revealed: “So frustrating for all of us but the memory of Monza is to date, my favorite memory in my 30 years in motorsports and I got to thank Daniel for that.
“I very much hope to see him on the grid again in F1, which is his desire. The door remains open for him to be in some McLaren in the future if the stars align. I’d love to go racing with him again.”
Brown is himself a racing driver, a petrolhead with a magnificent personal collection of some of the most iconic race cars, from F1 to GTs, which he regularly drives with mates, including the Andretti clan.
Ask if his passion and multi-faceted experience in the sport translates to effective management of race drivers and teams, Brown ventured: “I think it does, not only in choosing racing drivers but how to work with racing drivers but then also in the racing environment.
I’ve been around a lot of racing teams. I know what great looks like. I know what not great looks like. I’ve been around a lot of F1 teams, a lot of IndyCar teams, a lot of NASCAR teams, a lot of sports car teams, and I’ve been around drag racing teams.
“Greatness all looks the same regardless of what racing series you’re in. All look the same regardless of what racing series you’re in. Having been around racing my entire life, and driven, I think that gives me a lot of good perspectives on how to assess what’s going on inside the garage,” said the McLaren chief.