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Formula 1

Our verdict on Norris’s Russian Grand Prix heartbreak

by Matt Beer
5 min read

Lando Norris looked like he’d done enough to keep Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes at bay and take his first Formula 1 victory – and McLaren’s second in a row – at the Russian Grand Prix.

Then it rained. And then it rained even more.

And Norris’s decision to stay out on slick tyres meant his first place became eighth.

Should Norris and McLaren be judged harshly for that? Or did they have no real choice?

Here are our writers’ snap verdicts:

The end result isn’t the most important thing here

Edd Straw

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Russian Grand Prix Race Day Sochi, Russia

That Norris finished seventh in a race that he should have won is by the by given the circumstances. What he proved beyond any doubt at Sochi is that he’s absolutely capable of cutting it with the best up front and winning grands prix.

It would have been fascinating to see how the end of the race would have played out without the rain. Hamilton admitted it would have been “very tough” to pass Norris, who was making sure he hit his marks at the end of the lap not to be vulnerable in the DRS zone. He looked every bit the veteran, rather than a 21-year-old who has yet to win a race in F1.

What happened in the final laps will be a gut punch for Norris, but once he’s got over that feeling he should take enormous confidence from what he did at Sochi, not only in holding Hamilton at arm’s length but also pulling off an important pass on Carlos Sainz in the first stint.

What happened today didn’t cost Norris his first win, it merely delayed it.

Norris has nothing to be ashamed of

Gary Anderson

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Russian Grand Prix Race Day Sochi, Russia

Norris just needs to remember it was the weather that took away his potential first Formula 1 win. He was on pole position and in control for the first 50 laps, so he just needs to take motivation from that.

Leading and making the correct decisions with changing conditions is never easy. The driver is the team’s contact with what the track conditions are like and even when Hamilton, who was running second, pitted he felt he didn’t need to. It was a team call and Mercedes believed the rain was going to get heavier, which it did.

From all that, I suppose you could say the McLaren pitwall made the wrong decision but it could so easily have been the other way around.

Norris’s first win will come, but today we must say congratulations to Lewis on his 100th F1 race win.

Norris was in an impossible position

Scott Mitchell

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Russian Grand Prix Race Day Sochi, Russia

As soon as the rain started to fall I knew what I’d do if I were in Hamilton’s position: pit for inters. He had an easy call to make. He was not going to get past Norris and he had a huge gap behind. There was no lead to relinquish. No-brainer.

I wasn’t sure I’d have pit in Lando’s position. In hindsight maybe McLaren should have forced the issue more. Lando was judging the conditions and if they had remained stable or only got a bit worse he felt he could manage it. What was coming on the radar though would not be survivable on slicks.

So more foresight was needed. But unless Lando defied a very blatant “pit now!” order I don’t think he could be expected to judge his situation any differently.

It looked like his Hockenheim 2000 moment

Rob Hansford

Mika Hakkinen, Mclaren, Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari Und David Coulthard, Ferrari Heute Auf Dem Podium In Hockenheim

It was an understandable decision to stay out. Half the track was dry, reminiscent to the conditions in which Rubens Barrichello claimed his first win in the 2000 German GP, but although it initially looked like the right decision, the rain got heavier and it was just too much for anyone to cope on slick tyres.

It’s a huge shame for Norris. There’s no doubt he deserved the race win, but he shouldn’t be disheartened. He was in an impossible decision and so he had to roll the dice, especially with Hamilton diving into the pits for inters.

It’s unfortunate that this time things didn’t end in his favour but he has proven that he will be a worthy race winner sooner rather than later.

One of the best non-wins in F1 history

Matt Beer

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Russian Grand Prix Race Day Sochi, Russia

With about a dozen laps to go as we were drawing up the list for our regular winners and losers feature in The Race’s virtual office, we all felt Norris was in the winners’ category even if Hamilton overhauled him.

The way in which this race was lost ultimately changed that.

But not because it was a terrible error – just because it was so heartbreaking for Norris that it can’t really be considered as a positive outcome.

That doesn’t mean the ending negates the quality of the drive that led up to it. Even the pace Norris was showing as he hung on with slicks until the rain got really, really heavy was amazing.

Was there ever a realistic chance he’d pit from the lead with his first win in sight at the time the rain was manageable on slicks? That would’ve guaranteed defeat once Hamilton had pitted. Staying out still gave him hope.

This wasn’t a win. But it goes straight into the pantheon of history’s greatest unrewarded F1 drives.

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