Formula 1 Racing

Why Norris got lucky twice when the Safety Car appeared in Miami · RaceFans

Safety Car, Miami International Autodrome, 2024

Lando Norris admitted he had a “bit of luck” on his side with the timing of the Safety Car period on his way to victory in the Miami Grand Prix.

However due to a quirk in how the Safety Car was deployed, the McLaren driver benefitted much more than he might ordinarily have done. Under normal Safety Car circumstances he might not have even kept the lead after his pit stop.

The Safety Car appeared on lap 29 after Kevin Magnussen dumped Logan Sargeant’s Williams into the barrier at turn three. As usual, drivers immediately had to obey the ‘Safety Car delta time’ which reduced the speed.

This is an opportunity strategists prize, as it allows them to make pit stops while losing less time relative to the cars around them. Drivers typically lose over 20 seconds making a pit stop under green flag running.

Verstappen was badly held up by the Safety Car

Under Safety Car conditions that figure is reduced. However as Norris was only 11.3 seconds ahead of Verstappen when the Safety Car appeared, he was by no means guaranteed to keep his lead.

But when Norris made his pit stop he rejoined the track 23 seconds ahead of Verstappen. This happened because when the Safety Car joined the track it appeared in front of the Red Bull driver. Verstappen and those behind him therefore had to lap at an even slower speed.

“At one point we thought we were going to be ahead for a whole lap,” said Norris’ race engineer Will Joseph when he spoke to Sky over the race. Verstappen lost so much time behind the Safety Car that Norris was able to enter the pits with over half a minute in hand over his pursuer.

Without that, Norris would likely have fallen to second behind the Safety Car – still an improvement over the sixth place he held before drivers began making their pit stops.

The McLaren driver’s pace would still have made him a threat to Verstappen, though of course whether Norris might have been able to overtake the Red Bull on-track is another matter entirely. He hadn’t been able to get past Sergio Perez on same-age tyres earlier in the race, but by the second half Norris had fresher rubber and Verstappen had picked up some floor damage by clattering across the kerbs at the chicane when he wiped out a bollard.

Once free of Perez, Norris set a series of fastest lap times. He was able to resume that pace after the Virtual Safety Car period. The quirk of the Safety Car deployment potentially deprived us of an absorbing scrap for the lead.

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