(Reuters) – Lando Norris can take former champions McLaren back to the top in Formula One, ex-team mate Carlos Sainz said on Wednesday after the 21-year-old Briton agreed a multi-year contract extension.
Norris has yet to win a race but has been on the podium this season and is fourth overall after four races.
Spaniard Sainz, now at Ferrari, was his team mate last season before moving to Maranello and being replaced by Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
“I think there is a bunch of drivers now that are at a very similar level of performance, and I would include Lando in them,” Sainz told reporters ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix.
“They are potential world champions and they just need the right car to win it. I would include myself, I would include (Ferrari’s) Charles (Leclerc) of course and many others.
“The level in Formula One is so high that unfortunately we are more dependant on what the team is capable of rather than what we can do, but I believe Lando has the potential to win and take McLaren to the top.”
McLaren have not won a race since 2012 and their last drivers’ title was in 2008 with now-seven times champion Lewis Hamilton, now at Mercedes. The once-dominant team’s last constructors’ crown was in 1998.
They slipped as low as ninth in 2017 in a failed partnership with Honda, but finished third overall last year and now have Mercedes engines.
Ricciardo, who has a three-year deal, said Norris’s extension was good news.
“We’re both set in now for the future and it’s good. Lando’s started the season really strong and got the podium in Imola. The team is really happy with him and what he’s doing so they wanted to get that done nice and early.”
Ricciardo, who was at Red Bull with four times champion Sebastian Vettel and current title contender Max Verstappen, said it was too early to say where Norris ranked among his team mates.
“How good is he? I think he’s proving he’s certainly quick… I guess he’s stepped up a bit this year but he seems to be driving very well and he’s comfortable,” said the Australian.
“It’s his third year in F1 and with the team and that’s where you really start to hit your marks. He’s good, no denying that.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Toby Davis)