McLaren reserve and development driver Lando Norris will be promoted to the senior team for 2019, replacing Stoffel Vandoorne and partnering Carlos Sainz.
And it looks like youth could be given a chance at Ferrari too with Italian sources increasingly confident that Charles Leclerc will get the nod at Ferrari soon.
Having signed Carlos Sainz just a couple of weeks ago, a number of drivers were in the mix to complete the 2019 line-up, especially with Stoffel Vandoorne under pressure to start competing favourably against Fernando Alonso.
With both Vandoorne and Norris in the frame, Force India driver Esteban Ocon was also a candidate, although his links with Mercedes proved an impediment.
Ocon looks to be out at Force India because Sergio Perez brings sponsorship and is considered the ideal benchmark for incoming Lance Stroll.
Having given Norris free practice one outings at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, McLaren have decided to promote from within and sign up the 18-year-old for next season.
“To be announced as a race driver for McLaren is a dream come true,” said Norris. “Although I’ve been part of the team for a while now, this is a special moment, one I could only hope would become reality.
“I’d like to thank the whole team for this amazing opportunity and for believing in me. I’m also extremely grateful for the commitment McLaren has already shown in my development, allowing me to build my experience in a Formula 1 car in both testing and on Fridays during the past two race weekends.”
The Briton is currently racing for Carlin in the Formula Two championship, which he says will remain his priority along with continuing his development at McLaren.
“For the remainder of 2018, my focus remains firmly on the Formula 2 championship. My objective is to win the title before joining McLaren full-time, which will be tough, but I will fight as hard as I can for the remaining four races. I’ll also be working closely with McLaren at every opportunity to learn as much as possible from the drivers, engineers and mechanics to give myself the best preparation ahead of next year.”
McLaren CEO Zak Brown added he believed Norris’ maturity and ability to learn quickly made him the ideal candidate for a 2019 drive.
“We’re very pleased to finally be able to reveal who will complete our driver line-up at McLaren for 2019,” said Brown.
“We believe Lando is an exciting talent, full of potential, who we’ve very deliberately kept within the McLaren fold for exactly that reason.
“We already know he’s fast, he learns quickly, and has a mature head on his young shoulders. We see much potential for our future together. The investment we have made in his budding career with simulator development and seat-time in the car has been well-deserved, as he has continued to prove his abilities both behind the wheel and in his work with the engineering team.”
Vandoorne: sad tale of something not meant to be
Just moments before Norris was revealed as McLaren’s second 2019 race driver, they released a statement saying Stoffel Vandoorne would be leaving the team.
In what has been a difficult two years for the Belgian, the 2015 GP2 Series champion – and McLaren development driver prior to that – has struggled to match the pace of team-mate Fernando Alonso.
His dominant GP2 Series-winning year meant he became one of the most coveted junior drivers of recent years, and his stock rose further with a points-scoring debut at the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix.
After waiting patiently at McLaren, he got his chance for 2017 after the retirement of Jenson Button. However, he’s struggled to match his championship-winning team-mate, and has been out-qualified by him all season.
“I’m very grateful to McLaren for investing their faith in me over the past five years,” said Vandoorne. “I joined McLaren as a young driver and have since seen my career progress within the team from Test and Development Driver to Reserve Driver and then to full-time race driver.
“While we haven’t achieved the success we’d all hoped for, I’ve really enjoyed the past two seasons racing for McLaren and I have a great relationship with everyone in the team.
“I intend to give it my all for the remaining seven races of this season, and will announce my plans for next season in due course.”
Vandoorne isn’t thought to have many back-up options in Formula One. He has history of racing for Frederic Vasseur, who is now the current Sauber team principal, but no doors appear to be open at the Swiss team.
Toro Rosso are likely to go outside of their own programme and Williams are likely to take at least one Mercedes-backed driver along with a driver with more sponsorship than Vandoorne.
Notably, Zak Brown conceded that Vandoorne was not often given the best opportunities to show his potential.
“It’s clear we haven’t provided Stoffel with the tools to show his true talent, but throughout our relationship he’s proved to be a fantastic team player,” said Brown.
“His work ethic is impressive, he has a great reputation within the team and we’ve really enjoyed working with him. Of course, we would have loved to achieve more success during our time together, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that he will always be a part of the McLaren family of grand prix drivers.”
By: Luke Murphy & James Allen
All images: Motorsport Images
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