Why Norris's Miami luck was long overdue after 2021 near-misses


Even before his impressive drive in Miami, Lando Norris could have had multiple F1 race victories to his name —  if luck had swung his way. Mark Hughes analyses his closest calls

Lewis Hamilton talks to Lando Norris after winning the 2021 Russian Grand Prix

Hamilton comforts Norris at Sochi '21 after the latter came so close to a debut win

Yuri Kochetkov/Getty Images

By becoming a grand prix winner Lando Norris has finally got the screaming monkey off his back, the one that’s been ever-more irritating since Sochi 2021. On that day he had it all under control from pole until the rain arrived a few laps from the end, forcing an unenviable dilemma onto him and the team. In opting to stay out on slicks as the rain eased he lost the gamble. Had he known there was a second rainfall on the way, he’d likely have made a different decision, and that failure of communication from the pitwall was all that had kept him from the podium’s top step.

If there was an element of bad luck about his Sochi race, so he was paid back last weekend in Miami by the safety car, both its timing and its initially picking up the chasing pack rather than him. But it wasn’t just luck he happened to be out there leading, still not having made a stop so late in the race. He was there because his combination of searing pace and gentle tyre usage was extraordinary and he was still lapping significantly faster on his old rubber than Max Verstappen could manage
on his new.

Norris’ pace was, as Verstappen later said, “insane”. He was by far the quickest car in the race despite having qualified only fifth in a McLaren which didn’t seem to like the soft tyre used in qualifying but which absolutely flew on either of the other two compounds. So yes, he got a lucky break with the safety car. But being in a position to take advantage of that good fortune was something quite out of reach of anyone else and fully to do with merit.

Lewis Hamilton behind Lando Norris in the 2021 Russian Grand Prix

Norris in line for victory in Sochi 2021 – until the rain arrived

Xavi Bonilla / DPPI

That lost Sochi victory in ’21 came just one race after Norris had followed team-mate Daniel Ricciardo across the line for a McLaren 1-2 at Monza. The McLaren was a decent car but was by no means a Mercedes or Red Bull match.

The foundation of the Monza 1-2 was built in the sprint race the day before, back when that decided the grid for the grand prix. Mercedes had locked out the sprint front row and Valtteri Bottas had converted his pole to a sprint victory but was taking engine penalties for the Grand Prix itself. Lewis Hamilton had got too much wheelspin at the start of the sprint and so lost out to Verstappen, Ricciardo and Norris. Verstappen finished the sprint second ahead of Ricciardo, Norris and Hamilton. For the Grand Prix proper, with Bottas starting way back, Ricciardo was promoted to the front row – and out-accelerated Verstappen at the start. The McLaren was fast enough at the end of the straights that Verstappen could do nothing about it and even before his collision with Hamilton he’d looked unlikely to deny Ricciardo.

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When running behind Ricciardo in the grand prix, Norris asked the team – in hope rather than expectation – whether they could race and was told firmly “no”. McLaren was not about to risk its 1-2. The reason Norris was behind Ricciardo, having qualified ahead of him for the sprint, was just about the choreography of the start. As Hamilton had bogged down directly ahead of him, Norris was delayed as Ricciardo from the other side was able to surge past from a row behind. What Hamilton later described as being about 2mm too deep on his clutch paddle in the sprint is what in hindsight decided it was Ricciardo and not the faster-qualifying Norris who won the
grand prix.

At Sochi Norris had secured a brilliant pole position in the damp conditions, one which flattered the car. He’d lost out to Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari at the start but was significantly faster and gentler on the tyres and was later able to make an overtake on track for the lead. It took Hamilton until the second stint before he was behind Norris after which he began to close him down and apply the pressure. Norris took it all in his stride and afterwards Hamilton said that he’d ran out of ideas and grip and wasn’t going to be able to do anything about passing. But then the rain. Like Norris, Hamilton initially ignored the team call to pit for inters as the shower was beginning to ease off. But Mercedes insisted next lap, seeing on the radar a new cloud burst on its way.

Crucially, Norris was not overruled in the same way, not informed of the second shower and came home a distraught eighth. With just slightly different luck on the Monza and Sochi weekends, Norris might have won two consecutive grands prix in what was not the fastest car. So the luck he received on Sunday was somewhat overdue.

Lando Norris McLaren Miami Grand Prix 2024

Norris was able to run a winning alternate strategy in Miami due to his brilliant pace

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