Zak Brown: Norris McLaren contract “has zero exit clauses”

Jaden Diaz

Zak Brown has addressed any uncertainties surrounding Lando Norris’ contractual situation with McLaren, insisting the 23-year-old is committed to the team for the long term.

In a similar fashion to last year, McLaren started the 2023 season in poor form – suffering from a combination of limited performance and reliability issues at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Persistent issues from testing were a limiting factor in the opening round by limiting the team’s early preparations. Still, in the races since then, a clearer picture of the MCL36’s performance has emerged.

Oscar Piastri’s Q3 appearance in Jeddah was the highlight from another messy race weekend, but a double-points finish in Australia catapulted McLaren to 5th constructors’ standing – alleviating some of the pressure on the team.

Even before the final red flag, Lando Norris was on course to convert his strong pace and tire management into a respectable P8 finish in Melbourne.

Crash involving Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-23 and Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR23 at the second restart of the race.
02.04.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Race Day.
–, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

The positives from Albert Park shouldn’t be overstated, though, as McLaren has been the 6th-fastest team at best this season – only ahead of Alpine in the standings thanks to a collision between Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon.

Analyzing the situation from a wider perspective, the start of 2023 has been underwhelming for Zak Brown’s team.

The MCL36 is fast enough to compete for points but has failed to make any meaningful inroads on the front-runners. Aston Martin’s rapid development has further exposed the relatively stagnant situation at McLaren.

A significant technical overhaul – with Andrea Stella now team principal – combined with the team’s current competitiveness suggests this year will be something of a transitional period.

McLaren’s new wind tunnel is also due to come online this year, meaning that 2024 and 2025 will be the years when – according to Zak Brown and Lando Norris – there will be no excuses.

However, there are some who still describe the team’s current trajectory as unsatisfactory. This seems a reasonable stance to have, considering McLaren’s admitted it failed to reach its development targets with the MCL36.

However, there has been plenty of talk about the upgrade package scheduled for the Baku GP.

Andrea Stella has been particularly adamant about the team’s ability to compensate for a slow start with aggressive mid-season development.

It remains to be seen if McLaren can out-develop its rivals in 2023, but it seems reasonable to extrapolate the team’s rate of progression this season to its potential for success next year.

After all, whilst F1’s regulations are constantly being reviewed and tweaked, 2024 will largely represent an evolution from this year – meaning that slow mid-season development could have long-term consequences.

The above analysis indicates that – whilst there is a lot to be said about McLaren – there is no certainty they can consistently challenge for race wins in the near future.

As a result, there has been plenty of speculation about whether Lando Norris’ contract with McLaren (due to expire at the end of 2025) has any performance clauses.

However, speaking to Sky Sports, Zak Brown has denied this:

“He has zero exit clauses. Ultimately, when his contract is up, if we are not performing and he doesn’t feel he can win races and compete for the Championship, then I think anybody [would consider leaving]. We are all here to win. 

“He has got a contract with us and, more importantly, he is very happy here and sees the progress we are making – he is a team player.

“So, even contracts aside, it is about time that he is in a happy environment.

“He is along for the journey, and we have got some time to prove to him that we are going to give him a car capable of winning.”

There is a common theme across the quotes from McLaren’s senior personnel, being that expectations must be managed and controlled whilst simultaneously showing ambition to climb the field.

Considering the team’s failure to establish itself at the front, it is unsurprising that words and promises (much like Alpine’s 100-race plan) are no longer well received.

Still, Zak Brown’s comments are fairly consistent with Lando Norris’ statements to the press.

Norris has maintained that he believes in McLaren’s long-term project, periodically dismissing rumours about his changing allegiances.

Last year proved how unpredictable the F1 driver market can be, but the evidence suggests the Norris-McLaren is here to stay.

In any case, with an exciting young driver and history to live up to, the pressure on McLaren to become a contender won’t be going away anytime soon.