Relief as Norris finally exorcizes his 'Lando NoWins' nickname

MIAMI -- There was a lot going through Lando Norris' head as he started the final lap of Sunday's Miami Grand Prix.

Since the age of seven, when first stepped into a go-kart, this was the moment his entire racing career had been building towards. It was a moment that had somehow evaded him during his previous 109 races in F1 and one that any driver needs to make the final step into the top echelon of the sport.

So as his McLaren continued to extend the gap over Max Verstappen's Red Bull in second place during the final lap, his thoughts started to focus on how to mark the occasion at the chequered flag.

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What should he say on team radio that would fit the moment? What would sum up the emotions?

And what would lay to waste the "Lando NoWins" nickname that has plagued his Instagram account since his last true opportunity of victory slipped through his fingers at the 2021 Russian Grand Prix?

"I was smiling and thinking, how am I going to celebrate? What am I going to say?" Norris said after the race. "I'm not very good at kind of just coming up with these things and improvising when that situation comes, so I was rehearsing my lines.

"But when I went over the line, I just turned into something else. I don't know what it is. It's just that you're happy.

"Once you cross the line, then you just let go."

What came out sounded wonderfully unrehearsed -- a true burst of emotion, the sort reserved by the human body for occasions of pure ecstasy.

"WOOOOOOOOO! WOOOOOOOOO! About f------ time!" he blurted to his race engineer. "Finally! Finally! I'm so happy.

"I knew it when I came in this morning, I said today is the day of opportunity and I nailed it, and you nailed it."

Norris may have had a good feeling when he arrived at the Hard Rock stadium on Sunday morning, but after the first lap of the Miami Grand Prix his optimism had waned.

While teammate Oscar Piastri had vaulted up to third place in the mess created by Sergio Pérez's attempt to divebomb two Ferraris at the first corner, Norris had dropped from fifth on the grid to sixth.

It was still a step up on Saturday's sprint race start, in which he was wiped out in a multi-car collision at Turn 1, but as the first lap played out, any chance of a victory looked slim.

"I kind of had a little flashback to yesterday's sprint race when I saw Sergio on the inside," Norris said. "I just thought, 'OK, let's try to make it around Turn 1 for once.'

"So I took it easy. "I knew we had good pace, and I knew was in it for the long game. I was behind Checo [Perez] the whole of the first stint, but my pace at the end of the first stint was the best on track.

"And I could still see Max, and when you can see Max, there's hope. It's not often that you can see Max on track."

That hope still required a great deal of luck to be converted into a victory, and it came on lap 29 when a safety car was deployed to clear up the mess left by a collision between Kevin Magnussen and Logan Sargeant at Turn 2.

Over the 12 laps prior to the safety car's deployment, Norris had passed all five of the cars ahead of him by virtue of them pitting while he remained on track. The timing of the safety car gave him a free pit stop, allowing McLaren to change his tyres and get him back on track before his rivals came round to complete another lap. It was a stroke of luck, but one that Norris felt no guilt in exploiting.

"Sometimes you've got to have a bit of luck on your side, and things have got to go your way, and I had that today," Norris said. "I'll take it happily.

"And, yeah, after the safety car I could kind of just get my head down and push on and I was confident I could take it from there."

The celebrations that followed are due to stretch long into the Miami night. McLaren's CEO Zak Brown took the liberty of rescheduling Norris' evening flight home to allow him to make the most of the evening.

"I'm not going to sleep. I'm going all the way," he said. "I'll enjoy my time. This only happens once when you're taking your first win. It's nice to do it here in Miami. I was kind of hoping it was going to be at Silverstone, but I'll try to do it there as well."

It's clear Norris will also take a great deal of satisfaction from proving his doubters wrong. Ever since the 2021 Russian Grand Prix when he lost the lead of the race after being caught out on slick tyres in a rainstorm, a narrative has grown around his lack of victories.

In 2022 and early 2023, McLaren's struggle for performance only made the missed opportunity in Russia more prominent. But since the mid part of last year, when McLaren rejoined the fight for regular podiums, it has seemed like a matter of time until Norris broke his duck.

"Realistically it was a bit of a weight on his shoulders, but it was some weight on our shoulders as well, because we knew as soon as we had made winning material available to Lando he would have delivered," McLaren team principal Andrea Stella said. "So, we felt the responsibility and I said that many times.

"We feel like it's up to us, it's not up to Lando. But credit to Lando that he kept developing, how he developed over the winter, especially looking for instance at improving in qualifying and delivering laps that sometimes don't have to be 100% when you have a fast car. Just be there. And I think he's doing that."

Norris said the doubters had only fuelled his desire to go out and win over the past few seasons.

"Never did I not believe in what I could go out and do," he said. "So, I'm happy to put that to bed and prove a lot of these people who doubted me wrong.

"As much as I love to see it and I go on Instagram and I like all the comments of people abusing me -- especially Lando NoWins, that's become the thing -- for me to finally prove those people wrong, it's put an even bigger smile on my face today. So I thank all of them."

As the victory soaked in, Norris also admitted it was a welcome weight off his shoulders.

"As much as I want to say no [it's not a weight off my shoulders], it's a yes. To get that first victory is always incredible.

"And I've, of course, I had my moments where we've been close, and I've never been able to convert it into the win.

"But I wasn't worried. As much as a lot of people doubted that I was going to be able to put it together and win a race, I wasn't worried.

"I've kind of been more confident than ever this year that I've got what it takes, and the team have got what it takes, and I was patient with it.

"I've just been doing my job and executing my races, executing my qualis, and doing what I can do best.

"I knew my time was coming."