The Lando Norris gamble that inspired brilliant first F1 win with McLaren

The British driver capitalised on a perfectly timed safety car to beat Max Verstappen and claim his first F1 win sparking joyous McLaren celebrations in Florida

Kieran Jackson
Formula One Correspondent
Monday 06 May 2024 15:20 BST
McLaren shares BTS footage of Lando Norris celebrating F1 win

Has there ever been a more popular winner in modern-day Formula One? Perhaps not. After the chequered flag, everybody under the sun wanted to congratulate Lando Norris: his jubilant McLaren team, his fellow drivers, even Donald Trump, present at the Hard Rock Stadium, seemed outshone by the boy from Bristol and his unshakable smile at the end of the Miami Grand Prix.

The phrase on everyone’s lips was that it had been a “long time coming” for the 24-year-old. That’s true. 110 races, 15 podiums and one excruciating mishap in Russia three years ago speak to that. But Norris has finally entered the winners’ circle, on Sunday becoming the 21st Brit to win a Formula One race. For the first time in 18 months, “God Save the King” was belted out at the F1 podium ceremony.

As often is the case in the slender margins of elite sport, fortune played its role in the Florida heat. Norris started fifth on the grid, a day after crashing out on lap one of the sprint race, with optimism perhaps surprisingly high. He’d stated in the team briefing on Sunday morning that it was a day “full of opportunities”. Yet with Max Verstappen on pole position once again, overhauling the Red Bulls and Ferraris out in front seemed a daunting task.

But Norris, and his unfortunate teammate Oscar Piastri whose race was ruined just as Norris saw victory ahead, showed excellent pace throughout this 57-lap grand prix. The Australian stormed up to second after a few laps and, strikingly, kept the Ferraris behind him. Norris, like a predator ready to pounce, stayed behind the front four.

“I’ll go get him,” he said to race engineer Will Joseph, when tasked with overtaking Carlos Sainz ahead. As he later pointed out, he’d actually need not overtake any cars on track.

It was lap 28, minutes after Norris had taken the lead with his competitors pitting, when the size of the opportunity suddenly dawned. A crash between backmarkers Kevin Magnussen and Logan Sargeant resulted in a safety car and, effectively, gave Norris a free pit stop. He came in for fresh rubber and once the safety car picked up the then 19-car pack, the race had a new leader in papaya colours.

McLaren rolled the Miami dice. And it came up trumps.

Lando Norris kept his McLaren ahead of Max Verstappen at the end of the race
Lando Norris kept his McLaren ahead of Max Verstappen at the end of the race (Getty Images)

Could Norris keep Verstappen behind him with 25 laps to go? The trickiest moment came right at the start, with the Dutchman hustling his close friend right up to the home straight. Norris held the inside line, and his nerve, to stay ahead. Little did we know then, but that secured his maiden win.

Because, contrary to the forecasts, Verstappen did not haul Norris in. The Briton quickly (and vitally) strode on ahead by more than one second, leaving the Red Bull without the extra pace given with DRS. From there, lap-by-lap, Norris increased his lead.

He then went unchallenged; Red Bull were powerless.

The closing stages were nervy – you’d need only look on the tense faces in the McLaren garage – but Norris was not to be denied. So often the nearly man, smiling on the podium with a lingering sense of unfulfillment, this was to be his time. His joy and relief was palpable.

Norris celebrates after the grand prix with his McLaren team
Norris celebrates after the grand prix with his McLaren team (Getty Images)
Norris smiles on top of the podium alongside McLaren team principal Andrea Stella (centre-left), Max Verstappen (left) and Charles Leclerc (right)
Norris smiles on top of the podium alongside McLaren team principal Andrea Stella (centre-left), Max Verstappen (left) and Charles Leclerc (right) (Getty Images)

He screamed over team radio: “We did it Will! I guess that’s how it’s done. Finally, ah so happy! We did it.” He jumped over his adoring mechanics, who hoisted him into the air, as McLaren celebrated their first victory since Monza in September 2021.

It is a huge obstacle for Norris to finally overcome, the proverbial monkey off his back. It speaks volumes to the rapid ascension of Zak Brown’s McLaren team, too. The American CEO – who gave a tour of the garage to Trump pre-race – and Italian team principal Andrea Stella have galvanised the Woking-based outfit in the last year or so, desperate for the former giants of F1 to return to their perch.

Armed with the third-quickest car after the first five races, McLaren brought a hair-raising 10 upgrades to this race. The stunning results come Sunday afternoon were on the timesheet. Not just Ferrari, but Red Bull could not cope. With three different winners in the first six races after Carlos Sainz’s win in Australia, could this season be more competitive than we first feared?

That remains to be seen, but amid the media interviews and selfies and commendations from his peers – Lewis Hamilton was adamant that Norris had to change his planned Sunday night flight out of Miami to celebrate – the unmistakable image was this: Norris, overwhelmed, emotional and ecstatic with pure joy, grinning from ear-to-ear.

“I’m not going to sleep,” he said of Sunday night’s celebrations in Miami, flight seemingly already cancelled. “I’m going all the way!” Fair enough, Lando. Like they’ve all said, it’s been a long time coming.

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