McLaren racing into F1 Mexico City Grand Prix on podium streak by Norris, Piastri
MEXICO CITY — McLaren is on the march into Mexico City.
While Red Bull's Max Verstappen sucks up all the energy and almost all the victories in Formula One, McLaren is cruising into Sunday's Mexico City Grand Prix on a streak of four consecutive podium finishes.
Only Red Bull and Verstappen have been better in the second half of the season. And that has some asking if McLaren, which has just one grand prix win since 2012, could be the team to dethrone Red Bull in 2024.
McLaren boss Zak Brown has even suggested that Oscar Piastri, his 22-year-old Australian rookie, has the makings of a future champion.
“He’s extremely quick, he’s very mature, he’s very technical, he’s very calm: all the things that you’d like to see out of a rookie but you don’t necessarily always see out of a rookie,” Brown said. “He’s definitely showing every sign of being a potential future world champion.”
McLaren has already awarded Piastri a multiyear contract extension. Even Verstappen has said Piastri and Norris are the best driver lineup among his F1 rivals.
“(Norris) is definitely one of the fastest drivers in Formula One. ... We’re giving him a car that’s able to get on the podium now on a more regular basis,” Brown said. “I think they’re definitely pushing each other hard. But I think that’s good for both of them, and I think it’s good for the team.”
Piastri has the team's only win this season at the Qatar sprint race. Norris had the upper hand last week at the United States Grand Prix when he started second, jumped pole sitter Charles Leclerc of Ferrari for the lead for several laps, and finished third.
Norris was later awarded second when Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes was disqualified for a technical violation. Piastri had to retire his car after an early collision.
Norris earned his sixth podium in nine races. He is the first McLaren driver to reach four in a row since Jenson Button in 2011.
That was enough to gloss over a dubious team mark: 100 grand prix without a win. Norris is just one podium shy of the record for most in a career without a victory. The record is 13, set by Nick Heidfeld, who raced in F1 from 2000 to 2011.
But everything else has been humming for a team that earned just 17 points over the first eight races. The podium surge since the British Grand Prix in July has pulled McLaren ahead of Aston Martin, which started the season strong but has faded of late.
“We're in good rhythm,” Norris said. “When you look at where we were, six pit stops in the first race of the season, to where we are now fighting, against a Red Bull, which was unrealistic for almost anyone.”
McLaren still likes to be coy about its expectations from week to week. Before the Texas race, Norris tried to downplay the team's chances on a track he said would expose its weakness in slow-speed corners.
Norris had barely finished the U.S. Grand Prix when he was already suggesting McLaren could struggle in Mexico City and Brazil, the next race.
“I think our best chances (to win) are gone,” Norris said. “There's no super high-speed circuits left, which is where we are strong. I don't think they are any good ones for us coming up. Think our best have come and gone."
Verstappen wasn't buying it.
“You are always quick (in Brazil),” Verstappen told Norris.
200 RACES AND COUNTING
Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg will start his 200th grand prix on Sunday. The 36-year-old German has raced for multiple teams since 2010. He has never finished on the podium.
Greater things were expected out a driver who had won junior carting championships and the GP2 series before joining F1.
“It’s that much harder” in F1, Hulkenberg said. “I had a couple of opportunities. If you are not in top cars, these opportunities don’t come around that often ... That’s how it is.”
POINTS COME AND GO
Hamilton's disqualification from the United States Grand Prix meant he did not score in consecutive races for the first time since 2010. And it severely damaged his chances to catch Red Bull's Sergio Perez for second place with only four races left.
Williams rookie Logan Sargeant scored the first point of his career and first for an American driver in three decades. It was a huge boost in a tough season, thanks in large part to Hamilton.
Sargeant had finished 12th in Texas. The decision to disqualify Hamilton and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc moved Sargeant to 10th. That gave him one point and gave Williams a double-points finish as Alex Albon was bumped from ninth to seventh.
“I still want to do it straight up. I’m still at the point where I want to do it crossing the line in the top 10," Sargeant said.
Albon was the surprise of Friday's first practice session when he posted the second-fastest time and squeezed between Verstappen and home favorite Sergio Perez.
“Quite a big surprise, if I'm honest.” said Dave Robson, Williams' head of vehicle performance, said after the session. “The car for whatever reason was good straight out of the box."
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said the team has not yet seen the true impact of the 2021 cost cap breach and penalties that limit its use of a wind tunnel for car development. Because Red Bull has been so strong this season, the team has brought only a few upgrades, and tried to use all its wind tunnel time and expense on next year's car.
Red Bull was found to be in compliance with the cost cap in 2022.
“The process of the cost cap is evolving ... The degree of (financial records) scrutiny this year was phenomenal in terms of the rigor the FIA went to. It was a full colonoscopy that we experienced during the summer," Horner said.
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