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Lando Norris Finally Did It

Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren F1 Team celebrates his win during the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at Miami International Autodrome on May 5, 2024 in Miami, United States.
Song Haiyuan/MB Media/Getty Images

MIAMI - Where were you when Lando Norris opened up a three-second gap on Max Verstappen? I will remember that moment for the rest of my Formula 1 fandom, whether that ends at my death or when Verstappen wins his 17th consecutive world championship. From where I was standing on the railing of the 300 level of the Miami Dolphins' stadium, I could see a little chunk of the straight following turn 3, beyond that a much longer part of the curved sector that encompasses the entire south side of the track. It wasn't the clearest of views, thanks to palm trees and bits of stadium overhang blocking the track. But the higher altitude of my section did offer a breathtaking angle of the race, and I was surrounded by people who desperately wanted something special to happen on a brutally hot Sunday afternoon.

When Norris, shortly after a safety car restart that could not have been luckier for him in its timing, jumped out ahead of Verstappen by over a second, there were murmurs. He couldn't do it, could he? When Norris got two seconds clear of the three-time defending champion, those murmurs became loud gasps and the early rumbling of cheers. When the lead widened to three seconds, all hell broke loose. Fans around me wearing all sorts of team merchandise, from McLaren (of course) to Ferrari to Haas and even Red Bull (but only the Sergio Pérez fans), began roaring in approval. A few hundred feet down, people camped out across from the podium were even louder, so clear was the prospect of someone else standing on the top step at the end of the race.

This is life in Max Verstappen's F1: Anything that isn't a procession for Red Bull's no. 1 will be celebrated to the ends of the earth and back. (See also: his Australian Grand Prix DNF.) However, that isn't giving Norris enough credit for both what he accomplished and what it means, to him and to the fans and to one of F1's most accursed subplots. The somehow-still-24-year-old has been as good as he could be in his time in F1, dating back to the 2019 season, all with McLaren. Though the papaya-clad car hasn't been up to par for large parts of his tenure, Norris entered the Miami Grand Prix with a respectable set of statistics: 15 podiums, one pole position, and 691 points in 109 starts. That's good for about six points per race, or seventh on the grid. Good, but not in the upper crust of the sport. It's not a bad place to be, but there is one more statistic that had haunted Norris before Sunday: zero wins.

He had a shot, a few times, but really once above all. The year was 2021, and the race was the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. There, Norris made a colossal mistake: While he was leading by almost a minute, rain started to viciously attack the track. His engineers told him to pit to put on intermediate tires, which come with more grip for wet conditions. Norris decided to go his own way, while the rest of the field swapped to the slower but more controllable tires. It went to shit quickly: Norris hydroplaned off the track, Lewis Hamilton, in his last year of dominance, sped on by, and by the time Norris eventually pitted on the second-to-last lap, his race and hope for a first win were both over. He finished seventh.

There have been other (somewhat) close calls since. He finished second a whopping six times last season, including his spirited defense in Carlos Sainz's favor in Singapore. He also finished second last time out, in the Chinese Grand Prix a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, though, all of those second places, aside from the aforementioned Singapore one, were behind Verstappen, who is nigh uncatchable. Norris had been close, and getting closer, but the gap between him and a win felt enormous.

That is, it did until Sunday. It wasn't a completely clean win. We didn't notice this during the race, so caught up in the emotions, but the safety car that gifted Norris a pit stop was a bit confusing; after Kevin Magnussen wiped out Logan Sargeant on lap 28, the safety car came out, but crucially behind the then-leading Norris, who hadn't pitted yet. The rest of the field, starting with Verstappen, got bunched up behind the safety car while Norris raced on ahead, leaving the McLaren plenty of time to pit and stay ahead of the pack. The safety car is supposed to latch on to the leader of the race, but given the timing of the Magnussen-Sargeant incident, Norris had just gone past the starting line in time to avoid the car.

That's a lot of weirdness that didn't end up mattering a whole lot to anyone in attendance. To be honest, it might not have mattered to Norris's race either; due to the timing of the crash and safety car, he ended up with tires that were much fresher than Verstappen, and ended up turning that glorious three-second lead into a party-starting 7.6 second gap at the end of the race. Sure, passing at this circuit is tough, mostly constrained to the second to last turn after one of the longest straightaways of the season, but Norris was just faster than Verstappen for half of the race, and he drove with the lead perfectly. He might have done it even without the safety car situation. There was no Sochi-level mistake here, after all; Norris just took what was given to him and raced into personal history.

I had a perfect view of the widening gap from my vantage point, and the time between seeing Norris fly by and Verstappen making his way through the same spot felt like eons. It was exhilarating, with a bit of nerves to go along with it, and I don't even consider Norris one of my favorite drivers on the grid. It's hard to deny that he both deserves this and earned this, and the fans in attendance gave him his proper due. Since we were directly above the podium, we couldn't see much of the celebration, but I did manage to capture the moment that Norris was announced as the race winner. The roar of the crowd hit WrestleMania decibels, as did the cheers of "Lan-do! Lan-do!"

Apologies for the bad video, but like I said, we were directly above the podium so my angles were limited.

As far as cheers go, it was simple yet effective. All of the disconcerting feelings I had on Saturday were even more pronounced on Sunday when the "stars" came out—some of the ones I spotted on the screens: Patrick Mahomes, BLACKPINK's Lisa, Camilla Cabello, and, uh, Donald Trump, who was all over the McLaren paddock, putting a bit of a damper on things. It served as a reminder that, at best, these drivers and teams are rich enough to treat politics as a non-factor. Even with all of that, ultimately the crowd got the show we were all hoping to see. I can't help but hand it to Norris for seizing his best chance at a win since his fatal mistake in Russia. Given that I came in expecting a Verstappen snoozer, it almost made all of the dissonance and sunburn fade away into the setting Miami sun.

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