McLaren F1 Legend Launches Staunch Defence of Lando Norris Amidst Heavy Sochi Criticism

Published 09/28/2021, 6:04 AM EDT
Formula One F1 – Russian Grand Prix – Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia – September 26, 2021 McLaren’s Lando Norris is seen before the race REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov


McLaren F1 legend Mika Hakkinen admired the team’s future star. In reviewing the Russian GP, Hakkinen praised Lando Norris for his incredible race. In a juxtaposing battle for the victory, Lando fought for his first while Lewis looked to claim his hundredth. The last-minute rain helped Hamilton prevail, but the weekend at Sochi was all for Lando Norris. Many blamed the young driver for his decisions; Hakkinen backs the same choices.

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Norris’ calmness on the team radio was only the precursor to the eventual storm. Although the rain washed out the driver’s maiden win, his racecraft deserves praise. On his third season with the sport, Norris defended against a 7-time-world champion. Hakkinen observed this incredible feat, declaring Norris devoid of blame.

Formula One F1 – Russian Grand Prix – Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia – September 26, 2021 McLaren’s Lando Norris during the race REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The Flying Finn said, “I felt sorry for Lando Norris who drove brilliantly all weekend, grabbed pole position in difficult conditions, and dominated the race until the rain arrived.” While it’s easy to blame Norris for the strategic calls towards the end of the race, Hakkinen believes otherwise.

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The former McLaren driver made things clear from Lando’s perspective. “It is easy to criticize, but when you are trying to score your first win in F1, you often have faced difficult decisions. In this case, the decision to stop felt harder than the decision to carry on and try to take the win.”

Acknowledging Norris’s skills on a slippery track, Hakkinen praised the Brit. Lando has great car control, particularly in the wet, so it came down to how confident he felt and how much risk he was prepared to take.”

Lando Norris is not to blame

While it’s easy to assign blame for the mishap, the situation would be different stepping into Norris’ boots. For the first time in his F1 career, the 21-year-old was leading a Grand Prix. A dominating driver on a wet track, Norris had a slightly wet situation turn into a heavy downpour with three laps to go. Three laps from what could have been a maiden victory.

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The decision to concede that awaited position had to be a difficult one. Hoping that the odds would be in his favor, Norris made a gamble. As Hakkinen explained, “No matter what the team is thinking, the driver is the one who knows how much grip he has in the car… Lando felt he might be able to get the car to the finish – especially when Lewis Hamilton made his pit stop for intermediate tires.”

Formula One F1 – Russian Grand Prix – Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia – September 26, 2021 McLaren’s Lando Norris during the race REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

Nonetheless, Norris showed what he is capable of: the top position. Albeit a heartbreaking result for the driver, the memory would be engraved in Lando’s mind; a learning experience for his looming F1 victory. Hakkinen, too, places his bet on the young driver, “I have no doubt Lando’s first win is not far away.  He should be proud of his performance on Sunday.

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The pace in the MCL35M paired with the fueled hunger in the driver, Lando Norris isn’t far from a maiden victory. The season isn’t over yet for Norris.

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Shreya Sanjeev

447 articles

Shreya Sanjeev is an F1 author at EssentiallySports. Having attained a journalism degree from St Xavier's College, she finds comfort in the sound of her keyboard while typing and excitement in the sound of F1 cars speeding on a track. A street circuit and Daniel Ricciardo fan through and through, Shreya claims the 2018 Monaco GP to be one of her favorite races of all time.

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