McLaren have put a chink in Red Bull’s aura of invincibility

McLaren’s Lando Norris of Great Britain. Reuters

McLaren’s Lando Norris of Great Britain. Reuters

Published May 21, 2024



The Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari dented Red Bull’s aura of dominance for the second week in a row this past weekend. Max Verstappen’s weekend might have been capped with a win at the Emilia Romagna GP but the McLaren challenge cannot be ignored any longer.

Round 2 of Verstappen versus Norris did not disappoint with only 0.725 seconds separating the two drivers, who are now slowly setting up what could be an exciting battle at the front.

Verstappen, for the first time in three years, uttered the words “I had to work for that” because, for the second race in a row, the English-based team showed they are not just a buzzing fly next to the ear only to be brushed aside, but carry a real threat.

The cracks within Red Bull could be starting to show on the grid. Team principal Christian Horner is in hot water over alleged inappropriate behaviour, while current chief technical officer Adrian Newey, who happens to be the best in the world, is on his way out of the team and looking at rival bids.

And then there is their superstar driver who constantly has to answer questions about his future.

Of course, the recent shortcomings could all just be track-related, and the RB16 could land in Monaco this coming weekend and run riot, resuming the status quo. Let’s hope not.

The wheel-to-wheel action in the Abu Dhabi GP between Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen in the final race of the 2021 season was the last time we saw front-row action with drivers fighting tooth and nail consistently for track position. It’s something the sport has longed for since then, and only time will tell if McLaren have what it takes to replicate that action, or even dare to come near it.

This past weekend, the big question was if they would back up their first win of the season and the answer was yes. A three-place grid penalty for Oscar Piastri promoted Norris to the first.

For the majority of the race it looked like it was business as usual, until a late surge by the 24-year-old – far more comfortable with his car and setup than Verstappen was with his – reduced a six-second gap, crossing the line with the Dutchman’s rear wing within touching distance.

Red Bull, uncharacteristically, had a bad start to the weekend and struggled to wholly fix their issues by Sunday, despite test driver Liam Lawson grafting hard for a prolonged period in the simulator.

They struggled to the chequered flag and it has become increasingly evident in the past two races that the cruise mode they enjoyed over the past few years could well be a thing of the past, and that Norris’ win in the Miami GP was definitely not a fluke.