When rain began to fall in the closing stages of the Russian Grand Prix, one McLaren driver made the right call to pit while the other took a race-losing decision to stay out.Daniel Ricciardo dived for the pits on lap 48 for a set of intermediate tyres as the track conditions worsened. But team mate Lando Norris, who had led much of the race, stayed out until the 51st lap on his slicks. By then it was far too late, and it cost Norris a shot at victory.
The two drivers were in different situations as the race entered its final laps. Leader Norris had Lewis Hamilton breathing down his neck, but the rest were a long way behind – Sergio Perez was 40 seconds in arrears on lap 47.
Ricciardo, running fifth, had recently been passed by Perez and was running on an older set of tyres than Norris. He therefore lost grip more quickly when the rain started to fall.
At this point the McLaren pit wall and their drivers swapped details on the state of the track. The information flowed more frequently between Ricciardo and race engineer Tom Stallard than it did between Norris and his engineer Will Joseph.
Because Ricciardo was over 40 seconds behind his team mate at the time, as he began each lap the conditions were worse for him than they had been for Norris on the same tour earlier.
|45||Stallard||First spots of rain in pit lane. Very, very light.|
|46||Joseph||And Lando umbrellas are going up.||Stallard||Alonso, 1.2. Silver entry six, silver entry six.|
|46||Norris||Spitting quite a bit.||Stallard||Alonso 1.2.|
|46||Norris||Spitting middle sector.||Ricciardo||Turn seven a bit slippery, let me know what pit lane’s like,|
|46||Joseph||Okay, understood.||Stallard||Stopped raining, stopped raining in pit lane.|
|47||Joseph||Okay Lando this intensity will stay till the end of the race, we think.||Stallard||1.2. Seven laps to go.|
|47||Joseph||Possibly wet from here ’til turn 10.||Stallard||Okay there is a bit more rain. Plus one rain intensity, a little bit more rain. Wettest part five, six, seven, eight.|
|47||Joseph||No more [unclear] needed.||Ricciardo||Yeah, very slippery.|
|47||Stallard||Alonso 0.6. It’s not raining in pit lane, just very, very few spots.|
As the rain intensified, both drivers found it increasingly difficult to keep their cars on the track. But while Ricciardo decided to fit intermediates, Norris stayed out.
Speaking after the race, without knowledge of his team mate’s radio exchange, Ricciardo said he made it clear to McLaren when he felt intermediates were needed.
“My situation is that when some of the track’s dry and some of it’s wet, it really has to be us [that decides].
“The team can help us on pit wall and they were saying there’s a bit of rain on pit wall, but not too heavy. Then I was saying, look, it’s really wet turn five and seven. And that next lap I nearly went off. Well, I did go off.
“So I just told the team I need to come in for inters. I was very black and white with them, but that was my situation and that was the right thing for me at the time.”
Norris had his mirrors filled with Hamilton’s Mercedes and was preoccupied with not losing his lead as they picked their way past backmarkers.
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|48||Joseph||Yellow flags, turn seven.||Stallard||Suggest red mid six, red mid six.|
|48||Joseph||Norris runs wide at turn seven|
Track clear, track clear.
|Stallard||Track showing slippery turn three. Lando struggling turn five to 10.|
|48||Norris||I need blue flags.||Stallard||First cars are pitting, inter. First cars are pitting inter.|
|48||Joseph||Yep, we’re on it, we’re on it.||Stallard||DRS disabled.|
|48||Joseph||You should have blue flags. DRS has been disabled, DRS disabled.||Ricciardo||Yeah, crazy slippery now.|
|48||Stallard||Daniel copy, five laps after this, do we need the inter?|
|48||Ricciardo||Yeah, I can’t keep it on track. The hard’s just got no temp.|
|48||Stallard||Copy Daniel we’ll box, we’ll box.|
|48||Stallard||Daniel we’re box this lap.|
|48||Stallard||Box now. Launch map on after the bridge, after the bridge.|
|48||Ricciardo||Daniel, pit lane.|
|48||Stallard||Launch map. Silver entry nine, silver entry nine.|
At around the same time – as he was further ahead of Ricciardo on the track – Norris made it clear he wanted to stay on his slick tyres.
But while McLaren kept Norris aware of other drivers who had fitted intermediates, they did not point out his team mate was one of them. As Norris later revealed he was relying on McLaren’s assessment of the weather to guide his decision, this was a potentially vital piece of information.
|49||Joseph||Lando…||Stallard||Silver entry nine. Overtake available. Launch map, launch map.|
|49||Norris||How many laps to go?||Stallard||There’s still cars on dries. Gasly still on medium.|
|49||Joseph||Four to go after this one, four after this one. Some cars have pitted for inter, Bottas has gone already.||Stallard||Orange torque four, four orange torque four.|
|49||Joseph||Track very slippery from here to turn 10, lots of cars going off.||Stallard||Yellow diff three, yellow diff three.|
|49||Norris||Yeah, shut up!|
|49||Joseph||Lando, what do you think about inter? What do you think about inter?|
|49||Norris||I need blue flags, what are they doing?|
Norris saw Hamilton pitting in his mirrors, but decided to stay out again. Had he come in at this point, with the lead he had over the rest of the field, he would likely have still salvaged second place.
|50||Joseph||Okay Lando Hamilton has taken it, he’s gone to inter.||Stallard||Use a straight-line braking where you can, straight-line braking where you can for front brake temperatures. Red mid seven, red mid seven.|
|50||Norris||Yes, I see, I see. We’ve just got to commit to slicks.||Stallard||Orange torque five, orange torque five.|
|50||Joseph||Norris passed the pit lane entrance after this message|
Okay Lando just to confirm, we have to be able to stay on-track here. Are you happy to stay out on this tyre?
|Stallard||Vettel is turn five now on hard, that’s an opportunity.|
|50||Stallard||You could be racing Perez, Leclerc and Alonso at pit exit this time, use overtake now, let’s try and get close.|
Norris must have realised the moment he passed the pit lane entrance on lap 50 he had made a mistake. He ran wide at the final two corners, and although the braking zone for turn two was in good condition, he slithered off-track at turn four.
“It’s full wet, boys” he told the team, and despite slowing significantly he still spun off at the next corner. He understeered wide repeatedly and spun on his way into the pits in an excruciating tour of the circuit which took over three minutes.
Once he fitted intermediate tyres, Norris matched Ricciardo’s lap time to within a tenth of a second on the final tour. But over the preceding five laps he’d lost a massive 68 seconds to his team mate.
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|51||Norris||Norris skids off at turn seven and Hamilton takes the lead|
This fucking… it’s full wet, boys. I’ve got to box. I’m going to shunt. I can’t do this.
|Stallard||Turn five, looked very wet now it could be full wets in turn five, you need to take care there. Three laps to go, three laps to go. Leclerc turn two now on medium. Leclerc turn two now on medium.|
|51||Joseph||Yeah, we’re going to come in and do this. We’re going to come in. We’re going to box.||Stallard||Green shape four, green shape four.|
|51||Joseph||Okay, Lando, we’re boxing this lap. Pit lane very slippy.|
|51||Norris||Yes box, Yes, confirm.|
|51||Joseph||I need silver D9 before you come to a stop.|
|52||Joseph||Launch map on when you’re in the pit lane.||Stallard||Overtake available for Giovinazzi in pit exit, three laps to go.|
|52||Joseph||Could be to Alonso at exit.||Stallard||Two laps, this is P4. Bottas is on inter 4.9 seconds behind.|
|52||Joseph||Close to Raikkonen at exit.||Stallard||Bottas last lap, 51.6, he’s the fastest car on-track.|
|52||Joseph||Just green F4, green F4.|
|53||Joseph||This is the last lap.||Stallard||Last lap, strat five, strat five.|
|53||Stallard||Bottas still 4.1.|
While a desolate Norris said nothing on his way back into the pits, Ricciardo gave more insight into how the conditions had worsened at the end.
|CF||Joseph||Recharge on please. Watch for low revs. We finished P7.||Stallard||Okay Daniel that’s P4 mate. P4. Good job. We need recharge on, ACS off. And keep the RPM up, please keep the RPM up. That got pretty tasty at the end. Well done, buddy. That was a good call with the inters.|
|CF||Joseph||And remember to turn the car completely off and check it once you jump out, please.||Ricciardo||Okay, yeah that spiced it up a little. Okay, yeah, I think that was a good call so we did what we could, thank you.|
|CF||Stallard||Yeah, well done. Switches are good. So just watch the RPM as I said. As long as you’re above 8,000 we’re good. Finishing order: Hamilton, Verstappen, Sainz, yourself, Bottas, Alonso, Lando, Raikkonen, Perez, Russell. Lando tried to stay out on the on the slick tyres and it just got too wet.|
|CF||Ricciardo||OK, understood. Yeah it was really bad through turn five, this part of the track. Where you guys are wasn’t too bad. But it got very heavy last couple of laps.|
Quotes: Dieter Rencken