McLaren’s honeymoon was well and truly ended at the Russian Grand Prix as the cruel side of F1 showed its fangs once more, biting both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo in separate incidents.
Ricciardo’s podium hopes went up in smoke in Sochi over a botched pit stop.
But that was overshadowed by Norris’ own misfortune, which resulted in pointed remarks to his team over a crucial strategy error that saw him spin out of the lead with two laps remaining.
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‘SPORTING TRAGEDY’: Bold gamble costs star, Ricciardo burned by pit disaster in F1 madness
Norris held the lead over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton having resisting team orders to stop for intermediates, despite rain intensifying.
It proved to be the wrong call as he sensationally spun out on Lap 51 to hand Hamilton the win, and finish seventh.
The result sent McLaren crashing back down to earth after claiming a rare one-to finish at Monza two weeks earlier.
Norris said he was “devastated” by the result, and admitted that it was him, not the team, that ultimately made the wrong call.
“It was more that they thought I should box and I decided to stay out. It was my decision, I thought it was the way to go,” Norris told Sky Sports F1.
But Norris’ tune later changed, questioning why Mercedes had better knowledge over his own team about what the weather was going to do.
“I made my decisions and they told me it was only going to be drizzling like it was for those first five laps, but it rained a lot more,” he said.
“That’s something we didn’t know for some reason, Mercedes seemed to know it was going to rain a lot more, it’s something I’ll talk to the team about.
“At that point in time, and from what the team was telling me, I made the right decision. They weren’t telling me that it was going to rain a lot more and the slick tyre wasn’t going to be the one to be on.
“At that point it wasn’t a risk, we were making a correct decision, but for some reason not seeing the rain or not knowing it was going to get a lot harder was the thing that caught us out.”
“(The decision) was wrong at the end of the day but everything until then the guys did an excellent job. I’m happy with everything apart from that one decision which we’ll review and try not to make again.”
Hamilton was overheard in the media pen telling Norris that he didn’t want to pit either but eventually took his medicine and obeyed team orders at the second time of asking.
It was the right call that spoke in volumes about both Hamilton’s experience, and the trust he has in the team that’s helped him to six world titles.
“Lando, you didn’t want to come in? Me neither, I was like ‘he’s right there’,” Hamilton was heard saying to Norris, before praising his team for pushing him to stop.
McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl accepted some responsibility for the result, but made suggestive remarks over Norris’ decision to ignore calls to pit.
“Of course we are disappointed, he’s very disappointed at the moment, but that’s part of the sport we are in,” Seidl said. “In hindsight it’s always easy to judge what we could have done different, what he could have done different.
“In the end we didn’t get it together as a team – it was the wrong decision to stay out – but again it’s part of the sport.”
The team had been on cloud nine heading to Sochi after Ricciardo claimed the team’s first win since 2012 at Monza, where Norris finished second.
A wet and wild qualifying then saw the normal order shaken up again with Norris on pole and Ricciardo in fifth, albeit with a strong chance to gain positions with Williams’ George Russell and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz ahead of him.
Ricciardo ran as high as second place having successfully defended Hamilton for several laps. He then pitted on Lap 23, hoping for a smooth change that would give him a chance to fight for a podium in the race’s second half.
But a slow stop, due to issues with the front left tyre, lay waste to those hopes, putting him back out in P14 in a result Sky Sports’ Paul di Resta called a “nightmare”.
Ricciardo showed his class by regaining positions over George Williams, Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel after his first pit stop.
The only negative was Red Bull’s Sergio Perez passing him, although Ricciardo was able to gain the spot back and only finished behind Hamilton, Verstappen and Carlos Sainz.
“Very mature drive by Ricciardo as well isn’t it? Showing his class,” di Resta said.
“Maybe not ultimately getting the speed out of the car but when it comes to wheel-to-wheel racing, he’s kind of getting back in the same zone as where he was last year.
“I’d say he’s the third best on the track next to Hamilton and Verstappen.”
Commentator David Croft added: “Form is temporary, class is permanent and Daniel Ricciardo certainly has plenty of class.”
‘FOR ME, IT WAS C’EAR’
Asked after the race for his thoughts on stopping for wet tyres, Ricciardo said he felt it was a clear-cut decision.
“I speak purely on my race and my feeling … it was the far part (of the track) that was wet and we (the drivers, not the engineers) are the best reference for that,” Ricciardo told Sky Sports.
“I said, ‘Turn 5, Turn 7 I can’t keep it on the track anymore’. So for me it was clear, I said, ‘I need to come in for the inter’.
“Turn 7 I went off close to the wall, so it wasn’t even a question for me.
“Normally we are the best judge for that because we’re the one feeling the track, but again, I’m not speaking about Lando’s situation but for me it was clear.”
Seidl was still full of praise for Norris and said the experience will serve the Briton better in the long run.
“That’s why we need to, of course, analyse together with him what we could have done better today and learn from it – but then at the same time I think it’s also important to see all the positives from this weekend, also on his side, and come back stronger in Turkey,” Seidl said.