The pointed message over the radio on lap 17 when running in the wake of his team-mate was a key moment – perhaps of the season. “I have a lot of pace in me I can’t use at the moment,” said Lando. “I need clear air.”
McLaren wasted little time in acting on that ‘advice’, requesting Ricciardo to let his team-mate through. To his credit, Daniel did so without argument and “swallowed his pride” for the greater good. He’s a class act.
What really indicated the level Norris is now performing at was his performance following the red flag to clear up the Russell/Bottas debris. From the rolling start he picked off Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari to run second and drove beautifully in his defence against a charging Hamilton. He was never going to hold off the DRS-assisted Mercedes-AMG, but the way he placed his car in the centre of the road on the approach to Tamburello – the only real overtaking spot at Imola – showcased the canny racecraft honed through all those years in karting and the junior formulae.
“I didn’t think I had any fans!” he said when Martin Brundle told him afterwards he’d won driver of the day from the public vote – but for all of Lando’s immensely likeable (perhaps faux-humble) demeanour, there’s no mistaking this is an increasingly confident young racing driver relishing what appears to be a very decent McLaren. He’ll still be feeding off that buzz when they get to Portimao at the turn of the month.
“On the whole I’m very pleased … with myself but the team as well,” said Norris in the immediate afterglow. “I think apart from Q3 it was a pretty perfect weekend. We improved the car a lot over the first couple of days, and we didn’t start on the best foot – but we improved a lot. I felt like I did a very good job in qualifying. It was the first time I only had to do one run in both Q1 and Q2, so I did good enough laps to save the tyres, give myself a good opportunity into Q3 and be pretty close to pole position – effectively almost P3. I was disappointed yesterday so to come back to third today after a pretty eventful race for myself and, I’m sure, the others as well, was rewarding for myself, but more importantly, the team.”
McLaren’s choice of soft Pirellis rather than mediums for the second part of the race was a big call – but it didn’t cost him as it might have done. “I wasn’t so confident to get the tyres working,” he said. “It’s not an easy track to overtake on – Lewis might say otherwise! – but I think it was the right decision.”