McLaren mistake highlighted by Jolyon Palmer after Lando Norris incident at Russian Grand

Former Renault driver Jolyon Palmer believes McLaren should’ve stepped in to make the decision about changing for intermediate tyres, a decision which ultimately lost Lando Norris his maiden Formula One win. After holding off the reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton for much of the race, Norris had a handful of laps remaining of the race before rain began dropping in the pit lane. 

Moments later, Mercedes were on the radio to tell Hamilton there was a threat of heavier rain, which was due to increase before the end of the race with just eight laps remaining.

Initially, Hamilton, who was hunting down Norris for the win, ignored his team’s orders to come in and change for intermediate tyres, with Norris doing the same.

But the rain turned from drizzle to a deluge, with Hamilton diving into the pits to change for the appropriate tyre choice.

Norris remained out, on slick tyres with an ever-increasing slippy circuit, with the McLaren driver barely able to hold any control of the car.

With Hamilton on intermediates, he was able to close the gap from the pit stop with the McLaren of Norris crawling along, trying not to forfeit the win.

The gap was dropping second by second, and eventually, Norris had to admit defeat and limped back to the pits with Hamilton blasting past him to take his 100th win at Sochi, with Max Verstappen coming home in second after starting P20.

And Palmer believes maybe McLaren should’ve allowed the decision to come from the team, not the driver. 

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“We all know how strong Hamilton is at driving in wet conditions – more often than not he ends up as the winner,” said Palmer in his column for Formula One. 

“That ended up being the case once more at a slippery Sochi, but it was only a result of Norris not pitting for the intermediate tyres. 

“Like for like in the conditions, Norris proved he was a match for Hamilton in a battle of wits out front, which is enormously impressive from a driver seeking that first win.

“Clearly it was the pit stop which made the difference, and between the top two, this was a team decision, rather than a driver decision, which won the race.”

Norris was left fighting back tears in the aftermath after he crossed the line in seventh, after such high hopes of a win.

But Palmer did add that the decision to pit at the front would’ve been a far greater gamble than those not fighting for podium positions at that stage in the race.

“Further back, other drivers took an early pit stop for the inters and benefitted,” added Palmer. “The likes of Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen pitted first and gained, but these were drivers who were out of the points and had nothing to lose by gambling.

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“Various other drivers pitted as well depending on how much they were struggling in the conditions and largely whether they were in a position to roll the dice or not. At the front though the decision was much harder. 

“Norris and Hamilton were ticking along okay for a few laps as the track was getting wetter. 

“Norris only lost three and then two seconds compared to Bottas on the Finn’s first couple of flying laps on intermediates. 

“At this stage, the inters were quicker but not by enough to take a pit stop and gain overall.

“They all lost out in the end, but Norris was the biggest loser by not pitting until it was too late. But this was really a decision that had to be made by the pit wall.

“In changeable conditions, the drivers have an important role in decisions. They feel the grip level underneath them and can radio the team to say if they think slicks can work or if it’s too slippery.

“In Sochi though, the problem was not the current conditions, which the drivers were comfortable with; it was the incoming weather.

“All of this meant that while Hamilton ignored Mercedes’ first call into the pits, Mercedes had the confidence to force the issue and call Lewis in again, explaining that this was the optimum crossover point, and more rain was coming.

“While Hamilton didn’t want to pit, he finally acquiesced to his team’s request at the second time of asking and won the Grand Prix.

“There has been some criticism of Norris for being inexperienced or even arrogant in the way he dealt with the final laps – but actually I think Lando drove the optimum race with the information he had available to him.

“Lando didn’t receive as strong information from the pit wall. It was as much the team asking him what to do as the other way around. But while he’s the driver, he was actually the one with the least information in that moment.

“It seemed fundamentally that McLaren didn’t see the weather worsening, and if they did then they had to take control of the situation and order Norris in, even if like Hamilton, it was against his natural instinct from the cockpit.”

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