Sochi was ’60/40′ McLaren’s decision to make over Norris

Jamie Woodhouse
Lando Norris, McLaren, on intermediates. Russia, September 2021.

Lando Norris, McLaren, driving on intermediate tyres in the rain at the Russian Grand Prix. September 2021.

Formula 1 managing director Ross Brawn feels that McLaren had authority over Lando Norris to decide on a late swap to inters at the Russian GP.

A day prior to the race in Sochi, torrential rain through Saturday morning had left drivers facing a damp, but drying track once qualifying got underway later in the day.

And just as it seemed that intermediates would see out all three sessions, a window right at the end of Q3 opened up to gamble on a set of slick soft tyres.

It was a risk which paid off for several drivers, mixing up the grid and putting Norris on pole for the first time in his career, with Carlos Sainz and George Russell completing the top three.

Norris would lose P1 to Sainz at the start, but after retaking that lead, it seemed only Lewis Hamilton could stop him as the eventual winner homed in on Norris in the closing stages.

But then the rain which had stayed away all race arrived, soaking half of the circuit, but Norris told his team he wanted to maintain track position and limp to the end.

Sadly the rain intensified though, leaving Norris a passenger as he limped to the pit lane several laps too late. In the end he would finish P7.

Norris and McLaren were not blaming the other for what happened, though it was questioned which side should have made the final vote on pitting for inters or staying out.

Brawn admitted that it was a tight call, but felt it was one which was “60/40” McLaren’s to make.

Lando Norris defends the Russian GP lead from Lewis Hamilton. September 2021.

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“You could ask – should his McLaren team have taken the lead and insisted he pit when he said he didn’t want to? A driver is in a bubble,” wrote Brawn in his post-race column on the Formula 1 website.

“He doesn’t see what’s going on. In this case, I’d say it’s 60/40 in favour of the team making the decision but it’s so difficult because you don’t want to give up the lead of the race.

“Lando will be hurting right now. We all felt his pain when he slid off the track. It was a tragedy.

“Those scenarios are so difficult and in Sochi it was especially tricky as only half the track was wet. Even with radar, no one is completely certain how wet it will be.

“And if you’re leading a race, you don’t want to give it up. When you’re in the front, the guy in second has a much easier decision to make as he has nothing to lose. He either stays out and does what the guy in front does or takes a punt and he is unlikely to be any worse off than he was to begin with.


“Lando will go away from this and become a stronger driver. So much would have been preying on his mind, including the fact he managed to cope in qualifying better than anyone else. I see why he was insistent with his team.

“That sinking feeling a driver or a team gets when they realise they made the wrong call, and the lead is evaporating before their very eyes, is horrible. They have my sympathies, but that kind of drama is what makes F1 so fantastic.”

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