Miami GP data: Could Lando Norris have won even without the Safety Car in Miami?

Pablo Hidalgo
Lando Norris crosses the line to win in Miami

Lando Norris crosses the line to win in Miami

What initially seemed like a dull race turned into a highly entertaining Grand Prix as, if by magic, it resulted in a first F1 win for Lando Norris.

And, as we’ve witnessed that magic dismantle any predictions we made before the race, which is always a good sign. Not as predictable as we thought!

We analyse the first signs of weakness at Red Bull this season, the surprising pace of a revamped McLaren and a similarly potent Ferrari.

We also cannot overlook Lewis Hamilton’s great race and Fernando Alonso’s spectacular comeback from P15 to the points zone.

And, of course, we analyse whether the Safety Car that changed the course of the battle for P1 was pivotal for Norris to clinch his first Formula 1 victory. Could Norris or Oscar Piastri have even won without it?

How Lando Norris’s first F1 victory unfolded

It seemed like Max Verstappen was comfortably leading until lap 21. The Dutchman hit the bollard marking visibility for the chicane at turn 15 of the Miami circuit. And there’s an explanation for this.

Verstappen felt constant pressure from Piastri, trailing just three seconds behind him. He couldn’t shake him off, and it was time for crucial pit stops. In fact, Charles Leclerc, sniffing a potential undercut, had already made his stop. And that’s when the Dutchman made his first error of the season while leading the Grand Prix.

Piastri’s threat was significant for Red Bull. The revamped McLaren – just 50% revamped in the Aussie’s case – showed better mean race pace than the RB20. And Ferrari wasn’t lagging behind either. All three teams… within a tenth!

Miami Grand Prix

The race’s turning point came during the pit stops. On a track where tyre wear degradation is minimal but thermal wear – overheating – is a concern, the full-on revamped McLaren of Norris, running in clean air after Sergio Pérez’s stop – P5 – with worn tyres, set the fastest lap of the race. Meanwhile, Verstappen, for instance, couldn’t match those times with fresh hard tyres.

Race strategy Miami

McLaren’s decision to keep Norris on track instead of immediately attempting an overcut on Pérez – stopping a lap later and going faster with clean air – was crucial. The team’s plan was ambitious; they aimed to catch up to Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari to secure fourth place. In just six laps, Norris shaved off three seconds from the Spaniard with clean air.

Race pace comparison before SC Miami

But McLaren’s plan went further. They wanted a double podium with Piastri and Norris. Before the on-track incidents, it seemed more than feasible with the Australian.

However, Leclerc, with fresh hard tyres from his lap 21 stop, was faster, potentially undercutting him – a smart move by Ferrari here to dismantle this scenario.

With Norris, the strategy was clear: to have a tyre advantage over Leclerc – like his teammate – and launch an attack towards the end of the race if they managed to pass Sainz on track – or with an overcut similar as they did to Pérez.

Although this would have been more challenging with tyres nearly 30 laps old. But given McLaren’s pace, nothing seemed impossible.

All these scenarios disappeared when the Safety Car was deployed due to the incident between Kevin Magnussen and Logan Sargeant. A perfect scenario for Norris, just like in the Chinese GP, although this time the Safety Car was worth a victory.

Race pace comparison after SC Miami

What’s more, luck was so much on his side that Piastri and Sainz stopped on the lap immediately before the incident. As fate would have it, Norris finally got his long-awaited first win in Miami. And deservedly so. That final stint on the hard, just like in Shanghai, is worthy of the winner’s trophy.

Stint Comparison Miami

Now, looking at the data: the million-dollar question, could McLaren have won the race without the help of the Safety Car?

The answer isn’t straightforward and is… perhaps. It would’ve all depended on Piastri’s pace with the hard tyres, which wasn’t great. In fact, he was fourth-tenths slower on average than Leclerc – his main rival – after the restart.

In a race without incidents, after his stop, the Australian would’ve been in a ‘virtual’ third position due to Leclerc’s undercut and having tyres seven laps fresher than the Ferrari driver and four laps younger than Verstappen’s.

My personal opinion is that it wouldn’t have been possible, at least for McLaren. On a different track with more overtaking opportunities, maybe Norris could have had a chance with this pace.

And what about Ferrari?

Considering Leclerc’s times on the hard tyres, just a tenth slower on average per lap than Verstappen’s, I don’t think he could have caught him. Although, who knows… fighting for a victory always brings out an extra level of performance from a driver.

And Leclerc would surely have tried everything to get that victory after a sensational weekend from his side.

Race pace Miami

How Lewis Hamilton could have finished P5

Although the focus has been on the fight for victory – something that had been sorely missed lately – there are two names that stand out from the rest in this race: Hamilton and Alonso. The two veterans of the grid.

The Mercedes driver, after a controversial divebomb in the Sprint Race, drove incredibly well on Sunday, outperforming George Russell in every facet of the race and even putting Pérez in trouble at the end of the race.


Miami Grand Prix race progression: Hamilton, Perez and Russell compared
Miami Grand Prix race progression: Hamilton, Perez and Russell compared

Stint Comparison Miami

Hamilton fought the whole race. First with Nico Hülkenberg for more than 10 laps, then with Yuki Tsunoda – who also benefited from the Safety Car – on the restart and the rest of the race chasing Perez, but without success at the end.

Had he stayed on track for a couple more laps before his pit stop, he would have benefited from the Safety Car and could have finished P5 ahead of the Mexican driver.

Fernando Alonso’s sensational comeback

The comeback of the day was made by Alonso from P15 to P9. The Spaniard made a great start and gained two positions.

He later benefited from the early stops of team-mate Lance Stroll, Hülkenberg and Pierre Gasly to take advantage of the Virtual Safety Car deployed after Verstappen’s crash that took off the chicane cone and stopped to change to the medium tyre.

Race progression Miami

He came out behind his direct rivals after saving 8-9 seconds with the stop under VSC and with a fresher compound was in a position to fight for points. The Safety Car exit on lap 29 brought Guanyu Zhou and Daniel Ricciardo, who were still on the tyres from the start of the race, to a stop.

This left the Aston Martin driver P11 with only Esteban Ocon as a big threat to make it into the points.

Race pace comparison Alonso Miami

Stint Comparison Alonso Miami

The incident between Piastri and Sainz a little further on gave him one more position and after a nice and clean duel with Ocon, the Spaniard took P9 with a total of six positions gained. The Frenchman, on the other hand, took the first point of the season for the Alpine team.

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