Do McLaren And Lando Norris Really Have A Shot This F1 Season?

Lando Norris almost made it two wins in a row at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. Could Red Bull’s stranglehold on Formula 1 be coming to an end?
Lando Norris on the podium at the 2024 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix
Lando Norris on the podium at the 2024 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

The Imola Grand Prix was a bit of a weird one. Officially the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix (but nobody calls it that), it marked the return of Formula 1 to a legendary track after a year away. Drenched in tragedy, particularly as 2024 marked 30 years since the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the circuit, it’s a proper drivers’ track with undulation, high and low-speed corners and plenty of technical challenges.

The race was pretty dull though. The Imola track is narrow, which made overtaking for today’s large F1 cars very difficult. And as he’s done so many times in recent years, Max Verstappen controlled the race for most of its 63 laps. After a blip in Miami last time out, where Lando Norris in the McLaren won his first race, it seemed like things were back to normal.

Lando Norris during qualifying at the 2024 Emilia-Romagna GP
Lando Norris during qualifying at the 2024 Emilia-Romagna GP

But towards the end of the race, things changed. Norris, having looked after his tyres, was staging a comeback, and the gap to Verstappen in front closed as the Dutchman started to have issues with his own Pirellis. In the end, Verstappen held on but only by 0.7 seconds from the charging Norris, who was convinced he could have overtaken if the race was a few laps longer.

After several years of utter domination by Red Bull, could Norris and McLaren now represent a genuine challenge to the status quo?

Max Verstappen in the post-race press conference at the 2024 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix
Max Verstappen in the post-race press conference at the 2024 Emilia…

Cracks are starting to appear in Red Bull’s performances. At Imola, the team struggled all weekend with the car’s setup and only Verstappen’s brilliance (and a monster research stint by simulator driver Sebastian Buemi back at the factory) secured them pole position and the race win. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez was nowhere.

The stability that’s underwritten Red Bull’s dominance seems to be disappearing. The figurehead behind the team’s rise to glory, Dietrich Mateschitz, is gone, replaced by political infighting in the upper echelons of the firm. And in the wake of allegations of impropriety against team principal Christian Horner, the team will soon lose its talismanic design chief Adrian Newey.

Lando Norris chases Max Verstappen at the 2024 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix
Lando Norris chases Max Verstappen at the 2024 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

McLaren, meanwhile, has put the shambolic start to 2023 behind it and is on a charge under new team principal Andrea Stella. The car’s performance is now proven over consecutive races. Norris has finally broken his victory duck and in Oscar Piastri he has a very strong teammate who’s rarely far behind in terms of pace despite his youth and relative lack of experience.

Last season Red Bull looked vulnerable only once, at Singapore. This season they’ve looked vulnerable twice already. McLaren isn’t yet on the same level, but it’s rising rapidly as Red Bull seem to be faltering. It still seems a stretch to suggest that Verstappen and Red Bull won’t win the 2024 championships, but the mere idea that they won’t doesn’t seem quite as ridiculous as it did a few weeks ago.

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