McLaren chief Zak Brown says Lando Norris is the right choice for the team due to its current “rebuilding” phase, as it plots its long-term recovery in Formula 1.
McLaren last week confirmed that 18-year-old Norris will graduate to a race seat next season alongside ex-Toro Rosso and current Renault driver Carlos Sainz Jr.
McLaren has slumped down the pecking order through the course of this decade and currently holds a low-key sixth in the championship, having accepted it faces “years” before it can re-emerge as a front-runner.
Brown believes that Norris’ status as a rookie, allied to McLaren’s long-term recovery, means the Briton’s graduation comes at the right moment.
“He’s done a decent amount of testing with us, he’s done hours and hours of simulator time,” said Brown.
“We’ve been watching him mature in and out of the car, giving him a few free practice ones, kind of the final test if you want to call it that.
“Less about the speed, because we were confident of that, just how would he take to the environment and being out on the track with all the big boys.
“He did extremely well. He was very quick in Spa, he was very quick in Italy
“Then you look to the state of play at McLaren.
“We are in rebuilding mode, to have two extremely quick drivers, one with a decent amount of experience, going into his fifth year, along with someone who is inexperienced, was a good combination for us when we look over a five-year horizon.
“For all those reasons we easily came to the conclusion that Lando was the driver we wanted and it was just about going through the due diligence process and having them pass all those tests along the way to confirm what our instinct was.
“Quite frankly when we brought him on a couple of years ago we thought this day would come.”
Brown has stressed that Norris must be given time to adapt to Formula 1 when he steps up in 2019.
“What we need to do is manage him carefully, that we don’t get ahead of ourselves with comparisons to other drivers,” he said.
“You look at someone like [Charles] Leclerc, he was in trouble the first couple of races – maybe because expectations were too high and he made a couple of mistakes – and there were stories two races into the championship that maybe he isn’t who we thought he was.
“I think we have to be very careful not to set the bar and expectation so high that Free Practice 1 in Australia we’ve all come to conclusions on whether he’s the next superstar or not.
“We need to give him some time. He’s going take some time to settle in.”