McLaren CEO Zak Brown insists he got the “guy we wanted” by signing 18-year-old Lando Norris over more experienced racing drivers who were also on the market for 2019.
Norris will join Carlos Sainz at the team next year, replacing the current line-up of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. The two signings followed a turbulent driver market this year, which threatens to leave some big names without a drive in 2019.
McLaren approached a number of high-profile drivers over the summer, including Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen, before signing Sainz as Alonso’s replacement. It then looked to replace Vandoorne and held talks with both Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon before finally deciding to go with Norris, who was already the reserve and test driver at the team.
“All the names, I’ve been open about it, those were all conversations we had,” Brown said. “In the event, we felt Lando was up for it. We were always down the path of Lando being the guy we intend to put in for next year, hence him being our reserve driver, but we wanted to see how he would mature over the year, so in those instances you always want to have other plans in place or conversations going.
“So we think all these drivers you mentioned are very good race car drivers and were under consideration, but we’ve got the guy we wanted, we just wanted to be very diligent in our decision analysis of whether we felt he was ready to go.”
McLaren has joined Renault and Mercedes in confirming its driver line-up for 2019, meaning race seats for next season are now at a premium. With Lance Stroll expected to move to Force India next year there is a danger that either Ocon or Perez could be left without a drive. Brown said Ocon’s ties to Mercedes were a deterrent for a team like McLaren.
“Esteban is someone who we rate extremely highly and any time when you’re looking for a driver long-term and he has ties to another manufacturer that’s a tick in the wrong box. Hopefully Esteban will get a ride, maybe stay where he is, because he certainly deserves to be in Formula One.
“But these manufacturers having a call on these drivers is certainly something that is a negative when you’re not with that certain manufacturer and you want a five- or 10-year view of whether you want a driver or not.”