“Exciting times ahead,” said Lando Norris when we chatted after the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The McLaren racer had just finished fifth, bringing his tally for the final eight races of the year to 126 points. That was more than half his final season score and a haul bettered only by world champion Max Verstappen.

    Talk to senior figures at his McLaren team or inside rival squads in the pit lane and the consistent view was not only was this the Briton’s finest season in F1 – in what was his fifth campaign – but they were impressed at the way he got everything – and sometimes even more – out of the car, and that was rewarded when the team gave him the machinery to fight at the front.

    READ MORE: Norris hails ‘exciting times ahead’ for McLaren after team clinch P4 in constructors’ in Abu Dhabi

    He scored seven podiums this season, those coming in a run of 11 races from Silverstone – a race after McLaren introduced the first of two major upgrades. Six of those podiums were second places.

    It means after 104 starts and despite all those rostrum finishes, that first victory remains elusive. I asked his boss Andrea Stella if it was affecting him, to which the Italian replied: “There’s a diplomatic political answer which is – no I don’t think it’s affecting him. But I’d rather stay away from it and say, these drivers want to win races.

    “I’d rather accept the fact we haven’t put Lando in the conditions to do it yet. This is not a comfortable place. We can try and cope, but it’s not comfortable for Lando and it’s not comfortable for us. I’d rather start from accepting this, and work the best way to making this possible, rather than almost pretend that it doesn’t make any difference.

    “We are here to win races. I don’t want a driver who doesn’t have this strong drive. If this makes him uncomfortable and makes us uncomfortable, we accept it. It’s going to be extra determination to create the conditions to win races.”

    Norris predicts ‘exciting times ahead’ for McLaren after their 2023 turnaround
    Norris predicts ‘exciting times ahead’ for McLaren after their 2023 turnaround

    For what it’s worth, Norris doesn’t seem phased by the lack of victory to date. Sure, it’s annoying. Sure he believes he should have got at least one by now. But he isn’t doubting himself. It doesn’t appear to be eating away at him. He’s remaining patient.

    If anything, Norris seems happier than ever at McLaren. He’s felt at home at papaya team since he joined the family in 2017 as a junior driver. He gets on brilliantly with every corner of the team. They get on brilliantly with him – and he creates the kind of buzz that is one of the key pillars to keep pushing the team forward.

    READ MORE: Norris 'can compete' with the likes of Schumacher and Alonso says McLaren boss Stella

    Despite the strong form he’s showed in the second-half of the season, which yielded a career high end-of-season tally of 205 points, that doesn’t mean Norris is happy with his own performance.

    He’s been harder on himself this season than ever before. We’ve seen him publicly berate himself on multiple occasions this year, first on the team radio after making an error, then when speaking to the media in the moments after.

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 09: Lando Norris of Great Britain driving the (4) McLaren MCL60
    Norris on his way to a brilliant P2 at Silverstone – his first podium of the year

    There were a flurry of mistakes in the closing stages of the season such as in Qatar, when the car looked in contention for pole, and in Mexico – when he suffered a shock Q1 exit. And then there was the finale in Abu Dhabi, where he felt another mistake cost him pole.

    One read into those mistakes is that Norris cracks when it really matters. But a more sensible read is that he’s pushing the limit with a car that isn’t quite capable of fighting for pole and victory and those kinds of mistakes happen when you’re trying to beat the best in a generation.

    READ MORE: ‘It’s another one I’ve thrown away’ – Norris laments missed shot at pole in Abu Dhabi after costly error

    McLaren love his fight. They already know he’s talented and capable of not just winning races but winning world championships once they give him a car capable of doing so. They’ve known this for a while. It’s why they agreed a new four-year deal that runs until the end of 2025. And it’s why they want to lock him down for even longer.

    The team secured his rookie team mate Oscar Piastri in September until at least the end of 2026. Any new deal for Norris will almost certainly run beyond that as teams don’t like to have contracts expiring at the same time.

    SUZUKA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 24: Second placed Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren and Third
    McLaren have already locked down Norris' team mate Oscar Piastri for the long term

    McLaren know he has admirers. Red Bull have been chasing him from before he even left F2. They are understood to have made moves for his services on multiple occasions. But each time, they’ve been knocked back, with Norris certain that McLaren is the best place for him right now.

    He’s got a team working around him effortlessly and he’s loved my senior management. Moving elsewhere would require him to build that all again from scratch, possibly against some of the fastest drivers on the grid.

    READ MORE: ‘It’s definitely something I’d be open to’ – Norris discusses the prospect of teaming up with Verstappen in the future

    But he will also back his own ability. So it is a case of how long will he say no? Red Bull have a seat free at the end of 2024. Mercedes and Ferrari are currently set to have spots free at the end of 2024, too. The world is Norris’ oyster.

    Another year like 2023, though, will do wonders for both McLaren’s hopes of keeping Norris and for Norris’ belief that McLaren can deliver him a car to win the world championship. The two upgrades they put on the car delivered significant steps that vaulted the team up the order and took them from scrapping for points, to being Red Bull’s closest challengers.

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 09: Race winner, Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull
    Red Bull are known to be admirers of Norris, but would he be tempted to pair up with Max Verstappen

    And with the technical structure now settled, reinforcements on the way in January in the form of Rob Marshall from Red Bull and David Sanchez from Ferrari, and a new power unit deal with Mercedes that not only allows for stability but is enhanced to give McLaren, as team chief Zak Brown puts it, “a seat at the table” with regards to having more oversight on engine architecture and getting visibility significantly earlier to aid with chassis integration – plus a new wind tunnel that is now fully online with full focus on 2024, McLaren’s future is bright.

    With all that in mind – and according to my sources – a contract extension for Norris that takes his time at the team into 2026 and beyond is the most likely outcome.

    READ MORE > ANALYSIS: Why McLaren moved to lock down Piastri with a fresh contract extension

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