• Chris Kato

Was Norris or McLaren to Blame for Losing Russian GP Victory?

A maiden F1 victory slipped away after a crucial non call for Inters...

Sochi, Russia - Lando Norris was less than 10 laps away from his maiden victory in Formula 1 after holding off a fast charging Lewis Hamilton in Sochi. It all looked under control for the young Brit as the MCL35M was keeping the Mercedes at bay on Sochi's long straights. But the entire Grand Prix turned on its head when the clouds opened up beside the Black Sea and the victory for Norris literally slipped out of his hands. A heart breaking turn of events saw Norris go from P1 to P8 and that paved the way for Lewis Hamilton's historic 100th Grand Prix victory. The last 7 laps capped off what was a classic Russian Grand Prix but it also left many drivers asking themselves what could've been. In this video, we're going to break down the crucial last few laps that decided this race and ultimately whether it was Norris or his team who made the wrong decisions. Before we get into the video, we'd appreciate it if you'd give this video a like, and comment your thoughts on the 2021 Russian Grand Prix down below!

Team Radio Analysis

Before we decide who made the wrong decisions, let's break down the communications between driver and race engineer during the few laps when the rain began to fall. The rain really began to come down on the start of Lap 46 when fans in the grandstand started to reach for their umbrellas. This observation was clearly evident by both Norris and Hamilton out on track. The conditions quickly worsened as on the next lap, Norris ran wide at Turn 5 as Sector 2 was most effected by the incoming rain. Now the difference between McLaren and Mercedes in terms of information being given to their drivers starts here on Lap 48 as Hamilton is warned of increasing rain intensity. While over at McLaren, despite running wide again at Turn 7 and 8, Norris is not given much info as to the incoming conditions Despite being told DRS is disabled, Norris is given no further updates as he finishes Lap 48 by his race engineer Will Joseph.. On the flip side, Peter Bonington is giving Hamilton much more information on current conditions and this is where Mercedes makes the call to bring Lewis in. Now Hamilton ignores this order and continues down the main straight to start Lap 49 in pursuit of Norris. At this time, drivers such as Bottas, Russell, and Ricciardo were coming into the pits for intermediate tyres behind the race leaders. On Lap 48, McLaren's other driver Ricciardo reports track conditions to be "crazy slippery" and he makes the call to box for inters.

At the start of Lap 49, Norris is given an update as to the tyre choices of other drivers while Hamilton is notified of the 'crossover time'. In the middle of Lap 49, Norris is given further track condition updates and is finally asked about his thoughts on a tyre change. And this is where the race winning decision was made on either side of the garage. Norris did not want to come into the pits while on the other side, Mercedes make the firm call to bring Hamilton in which he did on Lap 50. Although Hamilton had his doubts, Mercedes intervened and assured their driver that this was the right call. Further up the road, Norris was still committed to staying on slicks but the gap to Hamilton was decreasing by a large margin as every corner approached. In the final sector on Lap 50, Norris is still not called in by the team as they left the decision in the drivers hands. By the time Lando's next radio message hits, his dream of a first F1 victory is over as heavy rain engulfed the Sochi Autodrom in Sector 2. Hamilton overtook Norris just as he spun off the track and the rest as they say is history!

Who made the wrong call?

The goal of this video is not to assign blame to one person or the other but more to analyze what went wrong in the cockpit and on the pit-wall. As the old saying goes, you win together and you lose together and this will be a good learning experience for both Norris and McLaren. Going through both Hamilton and Norris' team radio's, Hamilton was provided with more crucial information by his race engineer than Norris was. The big key in Lewis' victory was that the Mercedes strategists overruled the drivers instincts and called him in for inters. Even though Hamilton ignored the first call, Mercedes knew their information was correct and were adamant in their messaging that this was the right call. McLaren failed to do this with Norris as they let their driver make the decision himself. Although the driver has the best feel for the conditions, he does not have all the data at his fingertips like the team does. Even with Hamilton's 100 race victories and 7 World Titles, Mercedes stepped up as a team and made the executive decision to stop.

It's clear that both driver and team are to take the blame in this lost victory but McLaren could've done more to help their young driver who only led his first laps in F1 just a few weeks ago. Post-race, McLaren's Andreas Seidl recognized that they didn't do enough to get the win at the end of the day. “Lando, with the information from us and what he was feeling on the track, he felt good staying out there on the slicks and in the end, we didn’t overrule him as a team. "That is something we need to look into, to see what we could have done better. Of course, in hindsight, it was the wrong decision that we made as a team. “But we win together, we lose together. The important thing is to learn from it, to analyze it and then move on."

Norris was clearly frustrated and devastated with the race result but did stand by his team post-race. “It rained a lot more than I got told or that they knew, and if they knew they didn’t tell me to box. But this is something we will talk through. “We did what we thought was best at the time and I can’t fault them for that. I’ve got to stand by their decision and my decision and we’ll review it.” Now in defense of McLaren and Norris, as the lead car you're always in a tough position being the first to arrive at wet parts of the track and you don't have the luxury of reacting to what your rival does ahead of you. The disappointment from Norris will certainly overshadow what was another terrific weekend for McLaren. A maiden pole position for Norris was almost capped off with his maiden F1 victory but it wasn't meant to be. McLaren were in race winning positions for the second race in a row and Norris can take a lot of positives out of how he controlled the lead of the race. With the positives come the negatives but that is all apart of the sport and the learning curve that comes with being a Formula 1 driver. Norris will have to wait a littler longer for his elusive first Formula 1 victory but with the way this season has gone, he might not have to wait all that long to get it!

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