Lando Norris confident McLaren can close gap on Red Bull after strong finish to season

British driver optimistic about 2024 after fifth-placed finish at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris, at the DP World Golf Performance Centre, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Lando Norris is confident he and McLaren can close the gap to Red Bull next season after making huge strides as a team in the second half of this year.

The Brit racer, 24, concluded his 2023 campaign on Sunday with fifth place at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, meaning he finished sixth in the F1 driver standings.

Max Verstappen, with a third championship title already long secured, prevailed at Yas Marina Circuit to make it 19 wins from the calendar's 22 races – one of the many records he sealed this season. Red Bull, meanwhile, won every race bar Singapore.

However, McLaren and Norris were the next best performers from the July British Grand Prix onwards. A second place at Silverstone sparked a run of seven podiums for the driver, comprising six runner-up finishes and one third.

It meant McLaren came home fourth in the constructors’ championship, behind Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari.

Norris, still searching for a first race win in F1, is convinced his team can close the gap on Red Bull, who with 860 points were more than 550 better off, through 2024.

Speaking on Monday after shooting a promotional video at the DP World Golf Performance Centre at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, Norris was asked if he was bullish about McLaren's chances going into next season.

“Optimistic in winning I don’t think is very realistic, but optimistic in terms of progressing and taking a step towards Red Bull, we can definitely do that,” he said. “Because we’ve done it in the middle of the season when it’s harder than ever to do.

“You’re a lot more limited on wind-tunnel time and looking at the now and trying to think, ‘OK, what else we can do’. The winter is just reset; you take everything, you take it apart, you look at every single object, and you put it back together in an even better way.

"And now we know what direction to lean in, we can really go for that. We’re on the right track.”

In Abu Dhabi on Sunday, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff conceded his team face a “Mount Everest-sized” challenge to rein in Red Bull next year.

However, Norris said of his own team: “Some weekends we’ve been close. Brazil was eight seconds or something, Suzuka was 16 seconds or something, Silverstone, with the safety car, was definitely not going to be more than 15 seconds.

“So that’s not Mount Everest. It’s a hill, but it’s not Mount Everest. When you’re talking about 15 seconds over a 60-lap race, you’re talking about a 10th a lap – it’s tiny. It’s nothing, but at the same time it’s so much.

“What [Red Bull have] been very, very strong at is just consistency of performance at every single type of circuit. We’ve had our good ones; we’ve had our bad ones. Mercedes too. Red Bull, apart from Singapore, have not had any bad ones.

“So that’s the level we have to get to. But there’s many things, it’s not just by making a quicker car. There’s a lot of levels that have to come together, and that’s what we’re behind with.

“We’re not there on every single level and that’s what Red Bull are at the minute. But we showed this year that we can make such a big step. And it can be done by anyone.

“And it can be done by us again. That’s just the step we’ve got to make again.”

Abu Dhabi F1 - in pictures

Updated: November 28, 2023, 4:19 AM