How McLaren Stole Miami F1

A safety car might have helped Lando Norris, but the first-time winner didn’t need it.

byElizabeth Blackstock|
F1 photo


McLaren Racing's Lando Norris has finally broken his curse: The British driver is now a Formula 1 race winner thanks to his commanding performance at the 2024 Miami F1 Grand Prix. Of course, Norris didn't achieve that feat entirely on his own, which is why today, we're delving into what it took for Norris to achieve that triumph.

McLaren's Updates

First and foremost, McLaren brought a truly extensive upgrade package to Miami. Norris' MCL36 received the full slate of upgrades while teammate Oscar Piastri only received about half of the components. Norris had to work out a few kinks throughout the weekend; the machine was ultra-fast on Friday but faded a bit on Saturday. Then came Sunday, when the MCL36 was back in fine form.

In its effort to find more speed, McLaren implemented a massive slate of updates designed primarily to improve airflow and cooling management. The front wing was all new, while the front suspension geometry, front brake ducts, and winglets better directed airflow as it left the front wing. The floor had to be updated to accommodate these changes, as did the sidepod inlets and various aspects of bodywork. In the rear came updated suspension, brake ducts, and winglets. 

Sometimes, those sweeping changes can backfire on teams trying to find a little bit more speed. In Norris' case, though, McLaren had created the perfect formula for a speedy car in Miami.

Right Place, Right Time

You could perhaps argue that Lando Norris wouldn't have won the Miami Grand Prix had it not been for the deployment of a safety car, which effectively cleared the board of any best-laid strategy plans. In a perfect, incident-free race, perhaps Norris wouldn't have stuck it out for that top step of the podium—but since when has racing ever been done under perfect conditions? 

The fact of the matter is, Norris and his team were perfectly poised to take advantage of the safety car deployment. A significant part of motorsport success depends on one's ability to react and respond to incidents as they happen, and when Norris emerged at the head of the field after his rivals cycled through their pit stops, he was able to make the most of that safety car for a "free" pit stop that maintained his first position. Norris and his team got lucky in one sense, but their superb management of that lead was worthy of a win in and of itself.

Unfocused Competition

Lando Norris and McLaren found success in Miami in part because the competition was so unfocused. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen made a rare mistake in running over a bollard; Verstappen alleges that it damaged the floor of his car and therefore made it more of a challenge for him to overtake Norris on the restart. Sergio Perez torpedoed into Turn 1 at the race start and never managed to exhibit any significant speed. 

The Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. also struggled; Leclerc failed to recover from an awful start and simply couldn't pass the competition. Sainz seemed so focused on Oscar Piastri that he couldn't focus on his own race strategy. 

And Mercedes? Well… Mercedes just handed one of its customer teams a win before its works operation. Need I say more?

"Mature" Race Management

Andrea Stella, McLaren's team boss, had nothing but praise for his young driver after Norris' Miami GP victory, but one statement to stands above them all: Norris has matured as a driver.

"I have to say that his race management is very mature. As soon as he saw there wasn't much to do after the first lap, he started to save his tires because he knew his race would come at some stage," Stella said. "The pace he was able to pull off when the cars ahead of him pitted, that was quite incredible. He was getting the most out of the material he had. We needed to provide him with winning material. And as soon as we did it, he achieved it."

Stella credits Norris' growth to the work he's put in over the off-season, perpetually attempting to better himself in the simulator and milk the most out of any car he's given.

Young Driver Hunger

To say that Lando Norris has been desperate for a Formula 1 race win would be an understatement. Back in 2021, Norris came tantalizingly close to tasting that coveted victory champagne when he led the field toward the end of the Russian Grand Prix. However, a late downpour flipped the script, and rather than take his chances with a tire change, Norris stayed out on the track per McLaren's advice. It was a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" moment for the young driver, and it meant he lost out on that event to Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton.

As the winless races stacked up, the sassiest fans in the audience dubbed him "Lando No-wins"—something Norris says only motivated him further.

“To finally prove those people wrong, and prove to people that didn't think I could go out and do it, it's put an even bigger smile on my face. So, I thank all of them," Norris said, according to The Race. “As much as people want to say there was this and that and Russia [2021] and whatever, there wasn't a Sunday I've missed out on a win because of something I've done wrong."

This past Sunday was a perfect example of just how strong Norris can be when things finally go right.

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