Lando Norris, McLaren, Sochi Autodrom, 2021

“Watch Russell’s onboard”: How Norris kept an eye on his rival for shock Sochi pole

2021 Russian Grand Prix

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Lando Norris achieved his unexpected pole position for the Russian Grand Prix by gambling on a switch to slick tyres.

He wasn’t the first driver to do so: That was George Russell, whose early switch to the soft slick rubber was partly accidental.

But as Norris revealed after qualifying, he was keeping an eye on Russell’s progress on slick rubber using the video screens around the track.

“I was asking for info from George – because I was watching on the TV while I was driving around – on his lap to see what it was like,” said Norris, “where he was up and so on and asking for sectors and corners where he was strong, where he was struggling and so on.”

Norris used the intelligence on his rival’s lap to get the best out of his slick tyres on what turned out to be a pole-winning run.

“Having that information definitely helped, to know what sectors were definitely quicker, what sectors were maybe a bit wetter and trickier.”

At one stage Norris’ engineer Will Joseph gave him a breakdown of Russell’s sector times on his first lap on slicks and where he had lost time compared to his earlier run on intermediates. Norris said this gave him the confidence to attack harder on his flying lap.

“The difficult thing is now you have, I guess, in Q3, 10 of the best people on this day in Formula 1 in the world [trying to] put these laps in. So you can’t just drive around under the limit and know what to expect. Sometimes you’ve got to push it over and just find out if you made it once you’ve gone through the corner.

“So there was plenty of corners where I thought I might have gone in a bit hard here and it’s all going to go rather wrong. But it didn’t so that’s just, I guess, the level you’re got to be at to be in this position. So I’m happy I took those risks and made those decisions because they paid off the way they have.”

The McLaren driver took pole position by half a second, but admitted there were several occasions on his final lap where he thought he had over-done it.

“Many times during the lap I thought it was all going to go quite badly wrong and you’re going to mess it up. Especially in the final chicane, 15-16, I think it is. It was still very wet in this section and I had quite a few big wheel spins and some big snaps. But I kept it cool and brought it home.”

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Norris’ team radio during Q3

JosephOkay Lando lead car, Bottas, is in turn seven now.
JosephAnd lead car Bottas is approaching turn 13 now.
JosephAnd last car’s on track which is Russell, he’s just left the pit lane.
JosephOkay so there’s six cars yet to open including Daniel in front. Bottas is first he’s just about to go around the final corner.
JosephThree cars to launch including Daniel in front. Sainz is the car behind you he is approaching turn 13 now. Pretty much just Daniel now to launch.
JosephNorris complete a lap on intermediates
Okay Lando so car behind is Sainz he’s about nine second back, likely to be on a slow lap. How is the track?
NorrisIt’s definitely much drier. It’s definitely a lot drier. But I think in these conditions these tyres might be the right choice.
JosephOkay understood.
NorrisBut it’s difficult to know. What time has Alonso done?
JosephAlonso did a 45… sorry, a couple of cars have put on slicks so we’re keeping an eye on them. Sainz behind you, careful with Sainz.
NorrisCome on, Will!
JosephYeah mate, I’m sorry.
JosephNext car is Alonso, he’s in the middle of turn three now.
NorrisOkay let me know what you think of slicks because it could be a decent choice.
JosephOkay we’re making a decision now. So we will be box this lap, we’re just going to make a call as to which tyre.
NorrisOkay, confirm.
NorrisI want softs. Softs.
JosephYou’d like a soft tyre.
NorrisYep.
NorrisIt’s a… it’s a risk, it’s a risk for sure.
JosephWe’re going to take it.
JosephOkay so we’re boxing this lap. Just back up from Daniel a bit. And I need silver D5 now. You might just have to pull up behind Daniel, that’s okay, there’s plenty of time.
NorrisYep, gotcha.
JosephNorris leaves the pits
Track shgould be clear at exit. There’s four minutes to the flag so plenty of time here.
NorrisJust watch the onboard of Russell and tell me where it’s looking tough.
JosephOkay understood we’re going to watch Russell. So Lando the sequence of laps is basically get it on the first timed lap, if we make a mistake, we should be able to go again, but I would assume it’s the first timed lap.
JosephSo Russell is on a timed lap, he’s about three-quarters away through turn three. Suggest green F3, Russell in turn four now.
JosephAnd check brake balance as well. Russell in turn seven now.
NorrisHow’s his lap looking?
JosephSo far quicker between turn four and turn six.
JosephIt doesn’t look that difficult for Russell.
JosephTwo cars in front of you that’s Sainz and Daniel, they’re yet to launch. Russell is in turn 11. There’s Alonso behind you before Russell.
JosephRussell in turn 13.
JosephRussell in turn 15.
NorrisWhat’s his lap like?
JosephSlightly down overall.
JosephBacks off
Lando we can back off, warm up the tyres and go again. There’s one minute 50 to the flag.
NorrisYeah. How far off was he? Give me an answer.
JosephHe did a…
NorrisWhat lap time did he do?
JosephHe did a 55.0 but he backed off in sector three. Sector one he did a 38.3 which was about 1.3 slower. Sector two he was about four tenths slower. It’s the second lap so prepare this tyre for the second lap. And Russell’s pushing now, he’s in turn eight at the moment.
NorrisYeah I’m pushing still. Okay. No more comms.
JosephRussell potentially quicker now. There’s four cars ahead of you yet to launch. One minute eight to the flag.
JosephAnd check you’re happy with brake balance. Three cars ahead yet to open. One of them is in the final corner now. Russell approaching turn 13.
JosephTwo cars yet to launch and just Daniel now in front. Russell approaching turn 15.
JosephRussell in 16.
JosephCompletes final lap
Okay a couple of cars yet to finish standby, standby a second.
NorrisIs that done then or what?
JosephYeah it’s done, hang on, hang on…
JosephOkay, pole position mate, pole position!
NorrisLet’s fucking go! Oh! Yeah baby! Oh my God! Hahaha! Oh shit. That’s fricking awesome.
JosephLow revs please, low revs, watch for the low revs.
JosephAnd remember to keep to the delta as well, keep to the delta.
NorrisWoo! Fuck this is awesome. Congrats guys and girls, awesome job.
JosephKeep an eye on that delta please.
JosephOkay Lando so you’re going to proceed into the pit lane and there’ll be boards there.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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10 comments on ““Watch Russell’s onboard”: How Norris kept an eye on his rival for shock Sochi pole”

  1. I generally find this thing about trackside screens weird or even confusing. Drivers don’t have time to focus on those while driving. Certainly not on a flying lap, and even on slow laps, nearly impossible to focus on those for long, especially read the graphics at those speeds and angles. I don’t necessarily take these words 100% literally.

    1. @jerejj I think they are able to watch them, especially during straights. I don’t think they’ll watch it closely for too long, but a quick glance is sometimes all you need, especially when you can do it several times each lap. And on out laps and in laps, I definitely think drivers will have enough time to watch a screen for a few seconds. If they can drive while watching their mirrors, I don’t think it’s so far-fetched to believe they could watch a screen that’s within their eyeline.

    2. In Zandvoort, out of the blue, Max asked “which Mercedes just pitted?” when BOT went in at the end.

      He was on the other side of the track, so definitely didn’t have a visual on him and there were no comms about it from the pit lane.

      My conclusion: he saw a Mercedes in the pit on one of the big screens. They really can do it.

    3. I think many of them are actually that good they can watch the screens while driving fast

    4. As I recall from various interviews, the drivers often watch the big screens to see what’s happening in the race. I think they all do it. I guess they are placed in spots where drivers can afford to take a sweeping glance at the screen.

    5. You need less than a 1s glance to see if someone just pitted or is on a different type of tyre

  2. What’s impressive is that this follows his Spa crash, where you’d expect him to stay behind the line for a good while afterwards, but here he’s going over the line again. Or maybe it was the Ricciardo win that made him take those extra risks.

    But still, the joy in his voice hearing the crew cheering in the background gave me the chills.

  3. Lando is so on point. This pole was no lucky tire choice.

  4. At the beginning of the season I remember Russell explaining his lap at Imola saying that, before a corner, he knew the wind direction looking at an Italian flag on top of a castle.

    F1 drivers are pretty good (even Mazepin)

    1. Meanwhile, while I play F1 videogame and an Instagram notification pops up I crash.

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