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Horner and Wolff agree McLaren’s Lando Norris is an F1 title contender
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Horner and Wolff agree McLaren’s Lando Norris is an F1 title contender

Christian Horner and Toto Wolff found themselves in rare agreement as the rival team principals hailed the extraordinary progress of Lando Norris and McLaren over the past 12 months and declared the Briton a contender for the title.

Max Verstappen won the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix at Imola for Red Bull on Sunday but was chased down in the final laps by Norris, who finished 0.7sec behind and believed he could have taken the win with one or two more laps.

Norris won the round before, in Miami, and with the upgrades McLaren brought there now applied to both cars they also returned fourth place at Imola for Norris’s teammate, Oscar Piastri. They looked to have outpaced Ferrari as the second-quickest team and are nipping at Red Bull’s heels.

Horner, the Red Bull team principal, now believes McLaren are their leading rivals for the title after the stunning reversal of fortunes. “Arguably over the last couple of races they have been the main competitor,” he said. “They have definitely added performance to their car, they have made a step, so we expect them to be competitive at all circuits.”

When asked if he felt McLaren were now in the title fight, Horner agreed. “You can’t take anything for granted, we certainly don’t, the margins are very fine,” he said. “In year three of these rules there is always going to be convergence. We are seeing exactly that. The look of the cars is converging, the performance is converging. We will see more races like Sundays with very fine margins.”

Horner’s words were echoed by Wolff, his Mercedes counterpart, an unusual turn of events given the pair are usually engaged in a war of words. “It’s fantastic recovery story, when you look at where McLaren were 12 months ago,” he said. “We have to have respect how they have done things and more competition at the front is good for the sport.

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“I’m not looking at that with envy, quite the contrary, I’m looking at that and saying this is what we need to achieve, because they’ve been able to do that. It’s just good engineering.”

McLaren, based in Woking, have produced a remarkable turnaround since this time last year. At the start of 2023, they had opened with a car that had failed to meet its aerodynamic targets and was woefully off the pace, with Norris finishing 17th in the opening two races. However, a series of upgrades mid-season moved them into contention for podiums and in advancing that design philosophy this year, their latest upgrades were a further step forward. They have cemented their place at the front of the grid.

Wolff’s Mercedes team have some way to go to catch Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finishing in sixth and seventh at Imola. Their car remains hard to optimise and a handful to drive.

Source: theguardian.com