The McLaren driver claimed an extraordinary pole position in similarly unpredictable track and weather conditions on Saturday, with a well-timed call to change to slick tires proving key for their qualifying success, McLaren’s first pole position since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Whilst he lost that lead at the first lap, the Briton kept his cool and overhauled the Ferrari of his old teammate Carlos Sainz on lap 13, setting off into the distance. Norris then pitted on lap 28 for the hard compound, and had to fend off a charging Lewis Hamilton for the rest of the race.
The heavens opened on lap 47, as the first drops of rain started to hit the circuit, and it gradually got worse until lap 49, when Hamilton pitted and Norris stayed out. A call needed to be made as to whether the McLaren driver was to hang it out on slicks or stop for intermediate rubber. As it turned out, the long-time race leader stayed on track in his slick tires, and headed for a spin at turn 5, giving the lead to Hamilton and Mercedes. Asked as to how that decision to stay out unfolded, Norris was adamant it was his decision more than that of the team:
"I guess we made a call to stay out. I think we stand by that call of course. It was the wrong one at the end of the day, but I made a decision just as much as the team.
"In fact, it was more that they thought I should box and I decided to stay out. So it was my decision. I thought it was the way to go.”
The rain intensity that hit the track wasn’t fully expected, as just a few laps earlier radio communications from various teams had classified the imminent rain as just a couple of light drops that wouldn’t last very long. Lando shared that view:
"So it was a bit of luck, like the laps I was out before Lewis boxed, it was I think perfectly fine for the tyres I was on, and I got told the rain was going to stay the same.
"If it was the same amount then we made the right decision and I think staying out was the correct decision. But it obviously got a lot wetter than we as a team expected and that had us over in the end."
When he eventually headed for the pits, Norris lost the rear of his McLaren and crossed the pit lane white line, for which he has been given a formal reprimand by the race stewards, meaning he got to keep his P7 and 7 points (6 +1 for fastest lap).
The polesitter thinks the timing of the rain was critical in the decision, saying they wouldn’t have done the same if the situation happened mid-race:
"If there are 20 to go you are maybe not as aggressive with decisions, but we did what we thought was right, which I'm unhappy with of course. It was wrong at the end of the day."
But there are positives to be taken from the weekend as a whole, as the Briton explains:
"Everything until then, the guys did an excellent job and have done all weekend. So I'm happy with basically everything apart from that one decision which we'll review and hopefully try not make again."
Norris and McLaren will have to wait another fortnight for the next chance to win a race, as they head to the Turkish GP in Istanbul.