Lando Norris, McLaren, Miami International Autodrome, 2024

“Well, he’s going to win”: Why Norris gained so much time behind the Safety Car

Formula 1

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Lando Norris was disappointed when he narrowly missed the opportunity to pit immediately after a Virtual Safety Car period was triggered in the Chinese Grand Prix two weeks ago.

It seemed his chance to make a low-cost pit stop while the race was neutralised had got away from him. But fortune was on his side: The VSC continued for more than a lap and he made it into the pits after all, losing no time to his rivals.

In Miami last weekend a similar situation played out but this time Norris was even more fortune. He narrowly missed catching the Safety Car at the worst possible time, which ended up winning the race for him.

Norris’ race engineer Will Joseph warned him the Safety Car could appear at any moment as he hammered down the back straight towards turn 16 on lap 28. Logan Sargeant and Kevin Magnussen had tangled at turn three moments earlier, leaving a bent Williams in a barrier.

It seemed to be a repeat of China all over again when Norris accelerated past the pit lane entrance only to be told seconds later the race was being neutralised. But this time the physical rather than virtual Safety Car was making an appearance.

Although Norris had to immediately obey the delta time which comes into force as soon as the Safety Car is deployed, the Mercedes AMG GT did not emerge from the pit lane ahead of him as he passed by. The rules state the Safety Car will join the track “regardless of where the leader is”, and to McLaren’s relief Bernd Maylander narrowly failed to join the track in time to pick up Norris.

There was just 20 metres in it – and that proved crucial:

Lap: 27/57 NOR: 1’32.162
Norris Yeah all good. Pace is strong. Let’s just… pace is good, so let’s keep this up, mate. Let’s get the Ferrari.
Lap: 28/57 NOR: 1’32.042
Joseph Okay mate free air, let’s go.
Joseph Lando Safety Car windows, both Safety Car windows are open. Sergeant stopped turn three.
Norris Confirm.
Lap: 29/57 NOR: 2’13.364
Norris The Safety Car is deployed seconds after Norris passes the pit lane entrance
Joseph I know, twice! Safety Car deployed, Safety Car deployed, it’s for a car at turn three. And you’re ahead of the Safety Car, good job on the delta. Lando check your radio please.
Norris Yeah, all good.

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Safety Car
Report: “He’s going to be a lap ahead”: Unheard moment Verstappen saw race was lost
The next car to appear behind the Safety Car belonged to Max Verstappen. He had made his pit stop from the lead on lap 22, at which point he had nine-and-a-half seconds over Norris, and the two cars were separated by those of Oscar Piastri and Carlos Sainz Jnr between them.

After his pit stop, before the Safety Car appeared, Verstappen was 11 seconds behind the McLaren. But as Norris followed the Safety Car delta time, and Verstappen followed the actual Safety Car, that gap grew to over 30 seconds.

Verstappen and the queue of drivers behind him realised Norris was gaining a huge advantage. By the time they came back around, not only would Norris have enough time in hand to make his pit stop and come out ahead of Verstappen, he would still be ahead of the Safety Car.

Sainz realised the Safety Car period had just won Norris the race, and cursed his decision to pit a lap earlier. Piastri, who came in at the same time and had led his team mate up until that point, seemed the most frustrated of anyone:

Lap: 28/57 SAI: 1’56.881, PIA: 1’55.479
Adami Safety Car, Safety Car. Stallard Safety Car. Safety Car. Delta positive. Recharge on.
Sainz Fuck!
Adami Yeah.
Sainz Did Lando catch it?
Adami No. Lando’s at turn four, Safety Car at turn three. Charge button on.
Lap: 29/57 SAI: 2’19.655, PIA: 2’22.836
Sainz Fuck, this is too unlucky! Piastri Fuck, you serious? The Safety Car needs to go.
Adami Charge off, mode FW. Stallard So, Oscar, all cars except Lando have pitted.
Sainz Guess Lando is going to lead the race, no? Piastri Yeah, I know. The Safety Car needs to go.
Adami Think so. Stallard Car behind you will be Perez. He’s just pitted again for a medium tyre.
Sainz Well he’s going to win. Piastri If Lando comes out ahead of the Safety Car, then what happens? He’s going to be a lap ahead of everyone.
Adami Lando pitted, he’s at turn one. Stallard Yeah Oscar, that’s correct. We’re working out what happened.
Lap: 30/57 SAI: 2’07.676, PIA: 2’05.882
Sainz What are they going to do? Are we going to get a lap or… okay. Piastri Are you for fucking real?
Adami We don’t know, we are chasing it. Checo is now behind you. Stallard Part of message appears to be missing*
…been ahead anyway. The other car would have been ahead anyway. They had the Safety Car window. The order is the same.
Sainz I think we should have been…
Adami Sainz overtakes the Safety Car at turn nine
You can overtake, perhaps, yeah. Okay. Warm your tyres, wisely. And Lando is turn 16.

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Lando Norris, McLaren, Miami International Autodrome, 2024
Norris made his pit stop while his rivals were stuck behind the Safety Car

For Norris and Joseph, despair quickly gave way to joy as they realised the advantage they had gained was worth much more than just a well-timed Safety Car. After pulling out a lead of more than half a minute over Verstappen, Norris pitted to make his mandatory tyre change, and rejoined the track long before the Safety Car arrived:

Joseph Lando I’m going to come down one for the hard, happy?
Norris Happy.
Joseph You want to be on the delta, mate.
Norris Yeah, I am doing it.
Joseph Lando as much as I like hearing you breathe, check your radio please.
Norris Fuck.
Joseph And recharge on. And confirm we are box this lap.
Norris Yeah confirm.
Lap: 30/57 NOR: 2’18.015
Joseph Brakes on when you come to a stop. Launch map, launch map.
Joseph Lando you are going to come out ahead of the Safety Car. So for now just stay on the delta, please. And Lando in the background start six please, strat six.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Miami International Autodrome, 2024
Piastri was especially frustrated by the Safety Car timing
Verstappen first caught the Safety Car approaching turn four, at which point Norris was already at turn eight. The Safety Car continued to lead the field while Norris pitted, then began to release them at turn eight on the next lap.

Race control chose to compress the field behind the Safety Car at this point in order to allow the recovery of Sargeant’s car to begin as quickly as possible. Race control’s priority was to begin the clean-up operation at turn three as soon as they could, which was why the field was kept behind the Safety Car for so long.

That played into Norris’ hands perfectly. Had the Safety Car been deployed a few seconds earlier, he might have just made it into the pits, changed tyres and picked up places from some drivers, though likely not Verstappen. As it was, the cards landed perfectly for him.

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*FOM censors some radio messages

Lando Norris, McLaren, Miami International Autodrome, 2024
The Safety Car helped, but Norris’ rapid pace meant he went on to win by over seven seconds

2024 Miami Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
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14 comments on ““Well, he’s going to win”: Why Norris gained so much time behind the Safety Car”

  1. The commentary on sky seemed very confused with the process. “They’ve picked up the wrong car” they kept saying. It seems they’ve ignored the fact the car comes out when needed and then lets people past via the green light.

    The only thing that happened this time was it happened to come out in a gap between 1st and 2nd. It’s just luck.

    For VSC I would prefer they left it on for a fixed time – eg a lap time equivalent to everyone gets an equal benefit.

    1. The only thing that happened this time was it happened to come out in a gap between 1st and 2nd. It’s just luck.

      Or you know, they should have let the others by sooner. Wouldn’t have been an issue then either as they would have all been lapping at the same delta. That was the issue, not where the safety car came out at.

    2. Good fortune shouldn’t have been a factor.

      I don’t understand with the cars driving to the safety delta, why the safety care couldn’t have overtaken Norris, and then have the other cars gather behind them.

      Norris == Jammy dodger.

  2. Coventry Climax
    7th May 2024, 18:55

    That’s not a ‘failed to pick him up’, it’s a ‘managed to deliberately manipulate the race outcome’.

    And it’s what show is all about.

    1. They failed the purpose in this case: norris happened to be quick enough to possibly win even without the SC mistake, so by disadvantaging verstappen they made it so that norris’ win was ensured, no fighting.

      That’s a negative for the show.

      1. @esploratore1 Spot-on. People seem to think he won (directly) because of SC picking up the wrong driver, even though in reality, he would’ve in all likelihood won even without this unusual error, given he already had more than 9 seconds (Miami’s average pit time loss to drivers on track under neutralization) to Max, meaning he would’ve still rejoined in P1 or at least P2, no lower than that in any case, with the same tyre advantage either way, so this factor combined with Max’s floor damage, would’ve ensured an eventual on-track overtake for the victory & thus the same outcome anyway.

        1. An Sionnach
          8th May 2024, 17:32

          Given how Ricciardo successfully held on to fourth position against a superior car, I suspect Max would have held onto first place as long as he didn’t lose it in the pit stops.

          1. An Sionnach
            8th May 2024, 22:37

            On safety cars, Max has certainly benefited from them to the tune of more than just a race win, and Lewis has often made off like a bandit from them. I don’t like how they reset the field and would prefer a mixture of yellow flags, virtual safety cars and red flags. Not freaking out over the slightest thing (so reducing the safety focus) would help, too. As it is, they’re part of the strategy. It’s a waste to push too much when you’re ahead in case you end up on worn tyres behind the safety car.

    2. Coventry Climax Of course, only an error rather than a deliberate attempt to influence the race outcome.
      Otherwise, the same would’ve been done when Lewis & Mercedes were winning regularly, or Schumi, etc.

    3. Not surprising that we get Stop the Steal conspiracy theories at a race where the former conspiracy monger in chief was holding court amongst the billionaires.

  3. The safety car has failed to pick up the leader many, many times in the past and yet the commentators simply couldn’t get their heads around it.
    The safety car was called and Lando passed it as it made its way out of the pits, thats fortunate for him, but if the safety car was called early enough for it to pick up Lando, he’d have been able to pit instead of miss the pit entry and would have been the head of the queue anyway. The fact that the safety car exited the pits behind him changed nothing.

    1. Indeed. The only way it could possibly have disadvantaged Norris is if the safety car had come out after he had passed the pit entry, but before he had passed the pit exit. This does happen occasionally (e.g. it was a factor at Abu Dhabi 2021, that meant Hamilton couldn’t take a free pit stop as Verstappen did), but not very often. Normally not pitting until a safety car is deployed is a huge advantage, as it was for Norris.

  4. Who is this little man
    8th May 2024, 5:16

    Why is everybody acting like it is obscure and rigged for the safety car to not pick up the leader? The first time the safety car was ever used it picked up Howden Ganley, who also wasn’t the leader. I’ve seen the safety car pick up the wrong car plenty of times especially during wet races and then the whole pack is let through to pick up the leader. It’s almost like none of you have even watched F1 before…

    1. Burmapapa
      8th May 2024, 6:45

      Many casual British viewers watched the Sky Sports broadcast where the commentating duo was bewildered about the procedure.

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