So close for stunning Norris
Would Hamilton have passed Norris in those final laps had the rain shower missed Sochi? It would have been fascinating to find out. The pair were more than half a minute up the road from the rest, Hamilton inching closer to his young rival to make his attack. But earlier in the race he’d followed the other McLaren of Monza winner Daniel Ricciardo and had been unable do much about the Australian. On hard tyres two laps younger than Hamilton’s Norris looked equally matched, even in a slower car. But we’ll never know how it would have fallen. The rain turned everything on its head and ruined Lando’s day.
He’d driven beautifully in Sochi. The rain did him a favour on Saturday, but his first F1 pole position was still well earned. Then at the start he made a good getaway, only for his old friend Carlos Sainz Jr. to tow him down to Turn 1 and use better momentum for a fine pass around the outside. Sainz led his former team-mate until lap 13, but graining Pirelli tyres on his Ferrari never allowed him to escape and Norris re-took the lead.
Ricciardo was one of a number of drivers to suffer slow pitstops in Sochi, but McLaren got it right for Norris when he came in on lap 28 – and from that point only Hamilton appeared to stand between him and his first victory. But it was the rain that beat Lando in the end. As some parts but not all of the circuit became slippery, he was asked if he wanted to stop and he shouted “no” with understandable defiance. Who would have given up the lead in such a situation? But armed with more information from the weather radar, someone at McLaren should have over-ruled Norris and called him in. Instead, Hamilton heeded the call from his Mercedes team and when Lando began to struggle to keep his car in a straight line as the rain intensified Lewis closed in on his intermediates and picked up his century. As for Norris, he finally stopped, slid over the white line on the pitlane entry, but kept his seventh place and extra point for fastest lap when the stewards took a charitable view of his mistake. It was the least he deserved. The only consolation? Norris will surely have many more days when he leads grands prix – and next time perhaps all the way to the end.