Mantel keepsake: McLaren’s miraculous recovery
McLaren was behind for a long time. The traditional team has achieved an astonishing turnaround this Formula 1 season. In Japan, Norris and Piastri even achieved a double podium. How does it work?
Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri grinned for the Formula 1 family album Photographing McLaren. The English-Australian duo’s first double podium behind Red Bull dominator Max Verstappen in Suzuka was the temporary highlight of an extraordinary turnaround.
At the start of the season, McLaren was at the same level as the backbenchers Alfa Romeo and Williams. The industry leader is now at least within sight. “We’re not close to Max, but we’re not miles away either,” said Norris after the Japanese Grand Prix.
In Suzuka, Norris was 19.4 seconds behind Verstappen, Piastri even 36.5 seconds – that’s galaxies in Formula 1. Since the two-time world champion from the Netherlands is racing in his own orbit anyway, the numbers become less threatening. Piastri’s first podium finish was even a milestone for the 22-year-old Australian. The photo with the trophy was one for the mantelpiece, he said proudly.
McLaren is one of the most historic Formula 1 teams. James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna and, most recently, Lewis Hamilton in 2008 became world drivers’ champions for the English team. The pedantic Ron Dennis shaped an era as team boss. But the eight-time constructors’ world champion is only chasing after the successes of the past.
Radical restructuring at McLaren
At the end of last year, the German Andreas Seidl decided to leave McLaren as team boss and become managing director of the Sauber Group. He is leading Audi’s entry as a works team for the 2026 season. The Italian Andrea Stella became his successor and, together with McLaren managing director Zak Brown, ensured a radical restructuring. For example, technical director James Key had to leave after the disappointing start to the season and his responsibility was spread across several shoulders.
But that wasn’t everything. McLaren approached Red Bull’s design philosophy in the middle of the season. The innovations were primarily aimed at improving aerodynamic efficiency. And lo and behold: The MCL60 is suddenly so powerful that at least one of the two McLaren drivers has always finished in the points since the beginning of July.
“You can also come back in the middle of the season,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, praising the rival’s remarkable turnaround in the summer. The Silver Arrows are still looking for a way to finally get to Red Bull.
Piastri extends contract
“The progress we’ve made is pretty outstanding,” said 23-year-old Norris. The Englishman is still tied to McLaren until the end of 2025, but has long been one of the most sought-after drivers among the competition for the period after that. “I’m sure there will still be some tough times ahead. But we’re making progress step by step. And our first double podium with Oscar is a good moment for us.”
Before the Japanese Grand Prix, Piastri even extended his contract until the end of 2026. Suzuka was proof that he deserved it. “It feels very special. I will definitely remember it for a very long time, so I can’t thank the team enough for giving me this opportunity,” Piastri said.
It was only after a dispute with Alpine, where he had been a substitute driver, and an appeal to the arbitration board for contract disputes that his first contract with McLaren was declared legal last year. The newcomer, who is coached by former Formula 1 driver Mark Webber, now regularly proves that the trouble was worth it.
“We have reached an important milestone on our journey with McLaren,” said team boss Stella after the first double podium this season. “It will be difficult to repeat this result, but we will do everything we can to achieve it.” The souvenirs for the mantelpiece at home should eventually become the norm again at McLaren.