Motor racing-Norris optimistic McLaren can beat dominant Red Bull

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 12:08 PM

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) – McLaren’s Lando Norris said he was optimistic Formula One champions Red Bull and Max Verstappen could be beaten this season but doing it repeatedly would be another matter.

Red Bull won 21 of 22 races last year in the most dominant of championships, with only Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz denying them a clean sweep, and triple world champion Verstappen triumphant a record 19 times.

Norris finished second six times and third once with team mate Oscar Piastri also runner-up in Qatar — where the Australian won the sprint race — as McLaren ended the season strongly after a slow start.

The drivers were asked, after giving the new MCL38 car its first laps at a damp Silverstone on Wednesday, about their chances against Red Bull.

Aston Martin’s technical director Dan Fallows had said earlier in the week that he considered Red Bull to be ‘absolutely beatable’ and the McLaren drivers agreed.

“If you were to say ‘are they beatable?’ you’re going to have to say yes, I think we want to believe to say yes, because we were very close at certain times (in 2023) and at certain times we did beat them,” said Norris.

“The question is can we beat them over a season because I think that’s going to be the challenging thing and I think that’s going to be very difficult to do with how well they are performing.

“So, yeah, optimistic. Possible to beat them at certain times, I want to believe so. Yes.”

Piastri agreed and said the team could be very optimistic if they could maintain the rate of development.

“We also have to be aware it’s not just Red Bull we’re fighting,” he added. “We were in a very intense battle with Mercedes and Ferrari especially in the second half of the year in terms of championship points.

“I think there will be other top teams making progress as well,” added the Australian.

Team principal Andrea Stella said he expected Red Bull to start the season in Bahrain on March 2 still “enjoying some advantage” because they had been able to switch their focus to the new car early in 2023.

Both drivers said their first impressions of the new car were positive, even if the track was wet and the tyres unrepresentative.

“The main thing is I jumped in and felt very comfortable straight away, no surprises or anything,” said Norris.

“As these kind of days go, it was smooth sailing,” said Piastri.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)