In a Formula 1 season full of intrigue, Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix was, on paper, not really that intriguing. Championship contender Max Verstappen started at the back of the grid in a race that everyone assumed Lewis Hamilton would win. Hamilton did, but only because of an epic Lando Norris fuck-up.
You may have seen the race and already know of which I speak; or you didn’t, because there is more to life than Formula 1. Or, like me, you were lucky enough to turn it on with ten laps to go to find Lando Norris in the lead and Lewis Hamilton in second, but pushing. Norris’s lead, at that point, looked fragile but possibly sustainable, with Hamilton around one second behind and seemingly with the faster car. Then, on lap 47, it began to rain, and all hell broke loose.
Norris still lead, but, like Hamilton, was on slicks, with the track getting wetter and wetter. Norris even went off the track at turn five that lap, though somehow managed to stay ahead. On lap 49, as conditions got worse, Hamilton pitted and the Mercedes team gave him intermediate wets; Norris’s team told him to do the same thing, but he was heard on radio declining to do so. The consequences were disastrous.
Norris would eventually pit with two laps to go to switch to intermediate wets, telling his team that the car had become almost undriveable, but at that point it was too late, with Hamilton riding off to his 100th Formula 1 victory and Max Verstappen climbing to a shocking second. Norris finished seventh. Norris explained afterward that he fucked up.
“Obviously unhappy, devastated in a way,” Norris said. “I guess we made a call to stay out; we stand by that call but it was the wrong one at the end of the day. I made a decision just as much as the team. In fact it was more they thought I should box and I decided to stay out. So, my decision – I thought it was the way to go.”
“So it was tricky, but what we just, for some reason, didn’t see was how much more rain was suddenly going to come. I didn’t get told that, I didn’t know about that, and I made my decision on… the information that I got before that the drizzle was going to remain a drizzle, not pouring with rain! So I don’t know – it was just all going so well, so I guess it makes it even worse.”
Norris, hopefully, has learned an important lesson here, which is to always listen to your team, given that, during the race, they have access to reams of information that he simply doesn’t. And it’s possible that on a different timeline, if it had rained a little less, Norris would’ve been able to manage and drive on to victory and today we’d be talking about his incredible competitive spirit, but that isn’t what happened.
In the end, this will probably be just a bump in the road for Norris, who sure seems to have great things in his future; he is fourth in the championship standings currently, and well ahead of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who is eighth. It would’ve been nice to get that first win, though.