2021 Russian Grand Prix: Norris' talent shines on a heartbreaking day
Despite the result, Lando Norris reminded us all once again just how good he is.
Success on Saturday, heartbreak on Sunday. That is the unfortunate saying that will forever be tied to Lando Norris' 2021 Russian Grand Prix. The constant threat of rain was the main factor that allowed the young McLaren man to take a bold call to slick tyres in the dying moments of Q3, as did many other drivers like Williams' George Russell, and take his first F1 pole position during Saturday's qualifying session at Sochi.
However, pole position is probably the last place a driver wants to be at the Sochi Autodrom thanks to the long run down to turn two, the circuit's first proper corner. As we've seen in previous years, the advantage of slipstreaming the car in pole position allows those behind in second or third to actually have a fair chance at jumping the lead car, which is exactly what happened today, courtesy of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz.
Lando's eventual worry towards the end of the race would not be that of his former teammate. The McLaren eventually reclaimed the lead from the Ferrari and as Sainz fell off and opted for an earlier pit stop thanks to the tyres struggling on the now low-grip circuit, Norris was able to continue. Holding onto the lead right to the end of the race, whereas every lap went by and the chequered flag got closer, the rain was starting to arrive once again and a certain Lewis Hamilton was on a charge for his hundredth F1 race win. Despite being held up by the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo throughout the race, he was now hunting Norris down at a rapid pace.
Norris had it all under control, and it was just an unfortunate gamble that at the end of the day was the fatal blow to his chances at a first victory in F1. McLaren had not informed Norris of the light rain that was on course to get much worse and as both Norris and Hamilton struggled through turn five as each lap got wetter and wetter, Norris and McLaren opted to chance the slicks in the worsening conditions.
A quick change to slicks at the end of Q3 handed Norris his first F1 pole position. (FIA.)
It was just not to be. Norris would eventually finish seventh and was lucky to hold on to his final finishing position after being reprimanded for missing the pit lane entry when he did decide to pit for a set of intermediate tyres. Hamilton would go on to claim the historic achievement of a century of victories in F1, the first and only driver to do so in the sport.
Other drivers benefitted from the sudden change in conditions such as Max Verstappen, who eventually finished second from a starting position of last thanks to the various penalties he had racked up to keep the charge on against Lewis for the title, while Valtteri Bottas found himself charging up from fourteenth to fifth.
Norris was not the only driver to be caught out on dry tyres, as Charles Leclerc fell into a similar situation, eventually dropping out of the points as a consequence. It could have easily stayed dry enough for the gamble to work as it did pour with rain and rather unfortunately, it is just one of those things. As much as we wanted it and after his incredible efforts all weekend, it was just not meant to be for poor Lando Norris.
Instead of focusing on the negativity of Norris losing out on his first victory however, this weekend has to be looked at in another light. There has been no denying that Norris has been absolutely spectacular in that McLaren so far in 2021. From his three third places in Monaco, Imola and Austria, as well as his invaluable contribution to McLaren's first 1-2 finish since 2010 at Monza, to his phenomenal race craft and talent, he is displaying every quality of a driver that has a promising future in Formula 1.
Despite the result, Norris once again proved his shining talent at the wheel of the McLaren. (FIA.)
As his good mate and former driver George Russell will tell him, it hurts when it goes wrong and you come so close to success, but the day will come. It will more than surely come for Lando Norris, and at just 21 years of age, he has become a centre stone in the recent success and revival of McLaren, and a fundamental part of what the team is becoming.
What Sochi was in reality was a demonstration of what is to come in the future of F1. It was a little glimpse into what the younger generation is capable of and just how good they are. Names like Verstappen, Sainz, Russell and as has been constantly on show throughout this season, Lando Norris, the future is very close, and very, very exciting. I've been noting how this is the best group of upcoming drivers we have seen in a very long time and with such changes coming in 2022, the future is indeed very much now. And with the calibre of Lando Norris, I have never been so condifent that success for both him and McLaren is just around the corner, and again we have been reminded of the amaing skill of this young man.