top of page

Norris’s Miami victory: The final outcome of years of investment and one missed opportunity

Written by Vyas Ponnuri


It’s ‘Lando NoWins’ no more; Credit - Formula One

Lap 51 of the Russian Grand Prix. Lando Norris sat in the race lead. With only two laps remaining, he’d taken a risky gamble to stay out on dry tyres, on a track getting only wetter by the minute. His closest contender, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was closing in after pitting for intermediate tyres.


As Norris tiptoed to turn four, his hard tyres trying their best to keep the McLaren from sliding off into the barriers, the Mercedes loomed large, as Hamilton had narrowed the gap to only four seconds, quickly approaching the right-hander. 


Unfortunately, the standing water was too much for the smooth-surfaced slicks to handle, and Norris gently slid off towards the barriers, his McLaren stopping a few feet shy of the grey Tecpro barriers. 


While Hamilton would take his much desired 100th Grand Prix victory, young Norris would finish down in seventh, a result he never expected when he opened the curtains of his hotel room that morning, starting from pole for the first time, in his third Formula One season. 


They say silence can convey deep meanings, and Norris’s post-race radio message drove home this fact. It was, in his sense, a way of expressing heartbreak. When you think of radio messages hitting the same intensity, Charles Leclerc echoing “noooo” at the French Grand Prix a year later comes 


The McLaren racer expressed his disappointment when interviewed post-race, taking full blame for his actions on the racetrack. He was quoted saying, “We could have won the race and we didn’t.” It is often said that failure is the first step on the way to success, and Norris failing to win the Russian Grand Prix and accepting his mistake was the first step along his route to success. 


Norris was on the wrong tyres at the wrong time, costing him victory; Credit - Formula One

Although, let’s backtrack to 2019, when Norris had first joined the papaya outfit. It was certainly a gamble, with McLaren coming off some of their toughest years in Formula One. The team had endured rough times with Honda as a power unit supplier, and had switched to Renault power a year ago, in a bid to lift their fortunes. 


62 points, and sixth in the standings was a strong recovery, but it wouldn’t suffice the lofty standards expected from a team of McLaren’s stature. The real goal would be to fight for podiums, wins, and eventually a world championship. 


It was a goal that would require plenty of work, and a stable long-term plan to achieve. One step in this plan was to sign Norris, a young 19-year old then, known to be one of the stars for the future. Having won five championships in his first three years of racing, stepping up to F3 at 17, and F2 at 18, the next step naturally would be into the pinnacle of motorsport. 


Having been touted by McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown as “an exciting talent” and “someone who learns quickly”, Norris was already going toe-to-toe with his experienced teammate Carlos Sainz, outqualifying his teammate 11 times to Sainz’s 10 all through the season. 


Of course, with Norris’ racecraft still a work in progress, the points were harder to come by, the Briton only securing 49 points all season, and finishing outside the top ten, compared to 96 and sixth for teammate Sainz. 


With a season’s worth of experience under his belt, Norris’s prospects only began to soar from here on, his points tally only increasing as he gained valuable experience and insights into succeeding in Formula One. 


He would miss out on victory though, as he opted to stay behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo at Monza in 2021, and maximise the score for the team, avoiding any scuffle involved with overtaking and battling the Australian ahead for victory. 


The biggest miss, though, would come one race later, at Sochi, when Norris seemingly appeared in control of the race, until the heavens opened up late in the race. With McLaren not having enough coverage of a stronger band of rain approaching, Norris opted to brave out the last five tours of the circuit on his hard tyres, while his contender Hamilton pit for intermediates, the right call in the end. 


Such experiences would only help Norris grow, enhancing his decisiveness and maturity in such situations in the future. Being in such a position to be able to win a race so early in one’s career is a feat only few could achieve. 


Another important trait he would acquire was leadership, as he stepped up to lead McLaren’s charge to fourth in 2021, duelling with Ferrari for the entirety of the season. 


The 2021 season was arguably the turning point in the Bristol native’s career, as he’d evolved into the team leader, capable of spearheading the team and taking podiums when the opportunities presented themselves. 


With Norris penning a fresh contract ahead of the 2022 season, taking him all the way through to the end of 2025 with the papaya outfit, McLaren ensured continued investment in their star driver, and ensured he could perform at his full potential, without worrying for his future in the sport. 


Norris repaid the team’s faith in him by taking a podium at Imola in 2022; Credit - Jennifer Lorenzini

McLaren have traditionally started slow, before ramping up their season and ending on a high, and this trend has been familiar even in the ground effect era. 


The team from Woking struggled with their car concept early doors, Norris and teammate Ricciardo failing to score in the first two races of 2022, before bagging their first points in Melbourne, and Norris even taking what he deemed a ‘shock’ podium at Imola to kickstart the comeback. 


Even still, McLaren would finish only fifth in 2022, losing out on fourth to their closest rivals Alpine, despite Norris’s consistency yielding him seventh in the drivers’ standings. Norris wouldn’t be buoyed by the papaya outfit’s dip in 2022, and having any second thoughts on signing a new contract with the team. 


He believed in the team’s capabilities, and the infrastructural developments the team would make later down the line, with a brand new state-of-the-art wind tunnel facility expected to be ready for operations later in 2023, unlocking the team’s full potential. 


McLaren’s new wind tunnel in their Woking headquarters; Credit - McLaren

Much like 2022, McLaren’s 2023 season began on a low note, the team effectively left with a watered-down version of their final product, the MCL60 remaining inefficient and draggy, suffering high tyre degradation, off the pace compared to most of the grid. 


Another technical overhaul saw James Key replaced by Peter Prodromou and Neil Houldey, who oversaw a major upgrade package for round nine in 2023, the Austrian Grand Prix. 


A turning point for Norris’s season, around a track he’d had fond memories of, he’d responded with an excellent fourth, outperforming the likes of Mercedes, and keeping up with the Ferrari duo of Leclerc and Sainz. 


The rest of the season would be an unprecedented run for McLaren, with Norris taking six podium finishes, although his new teammate Oscar Piastri would be the victorious one, putting the MCL60 on pole for the sprint at Qatar, before taking victory later in the day. Norris would recover to third, after slipping to the lower reaches of points during the start of the race. 


Despite Norris accumulating podiums, and finishing second to the infallible, the peerless Max Verstappen several times, many wondered when he would take that elusive race victory. Five seasons in, 100 races driven, surely the day would come, the opportunity would present itself. 


With Norris closing in on Nick Heidfeld’s famous record of most podiums without a victory, a new trend went viral on social media — Lando “NoWins”. It was a connotation of his name, highlighting the fact he’d not yet taken a race victory, while his Australian teammates Ricciardo and Piastri had already taken victories of sorts already.   


Norris was closing in on the Ferraris before settling for P3 at Australia; Credit - McLaren

Looking at the excellent consistency and ruthless pace Norris displayed in 2023, you’d be wondering if 2024 was finally the year Lando took that elusive first victory, and continued to step up. 


Inklings and hints remained along the way, as he took an excellent third at Australia, even in the running for second, before a sprint pole on Formula One’s return to Shanghai once again highlighted his wet-weather prowess, another special skill he’d developed over the years. 


As he failed to convert his sprint pole into victory, questions once again arose over Norris’s driving, and if he would actually be able to withstand pressure, should he find himself in a position to win a race of any sort, once again. 


Miami has been known as a bogey track for McLaren, the team failing to net a single point in both races held around the Miami International Autodrome. However, the team were upbeat heading into the race weekend, with a slew of upgrades expected to be introduced. 


The upgrade package McLaren introduced in Miami

While the Miami sprint was an aberration, Norris out on the spot in a first lap nutcase, Sunday’s  race would bring about encouraging signs. While Piastri showcased the impressive straight line speed of the McLaren, overtaking Leclerc and holding second in the race, Norris pressured race leader Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez, hustling him for the early stages of the race. 


Norris would watch as others ahead dived into the pits for fresh tyres, and would eventually lead the race when leader Verstappen pitted. Having radioed to his team about his tyres remaining in great shape, he pushed on, extending the gap to Verstappen behind to as much as 11 seconds. Proof of his strong pace was the fastest lap, one he’d set on his worn medium tyres. 


The race-defining moment would be the safety car intervention caused by Kevin Magnussen and Logan Sargeant coming together on lap 28, bringing out the safety car. In a rare instance, the safety car picked up second-placed Verstappen, and not the race leader Norris. 


With Norris not trundling behind the safety car, and instead having to keep to a minimum delta time, he was able to extend his lead to 31 seconds, pit, and still return in the lead of the race. However, he’d face a challenge from the ever-present Max Verstappen, the Dutchman’s Red Bull still the class of the field, and a genuine victor on race day. 


But he would be no threat to Norris. With the slow laps behind the safety car allowing Norris to warm up his new hard tyres, he would be able to pull away, and open up the one-second gap to prevent Verstappen from getting the aid of DRS and staying in the hunt for victory. 


Norris would ensure his victory wouldn’t be a mere stroke of luck, as he opened up an eight-second gap to the ever-dominant Red Bull behind. He would control the race, keeping his cool under immense pressure, and as he crossed the finish line on lap 57, the McLaren pit wall erupted in joy. 110 races in, the young boy from Bristol had finally done it. 


The palpitation, the trepidation, the anxiety had finally turned into relief and joy, the monicker “Lando NoWins” finally put to bed. Norris’ victory was truly special, built on years of experience, relentless growth, and character development, traits that finally put him in position to take a race victory. You only wonder if this could be the first of many victories in Norris’s long and successful Formula One career. 


Comments


bottom of page