Mika Hakkinen has expressed sympathy for Lando Norris following the Russian Grand Prix, with the McLaren driver making the wrong strategy call amid a late rain shower and losing out on the victory.
Pole-sitter Norris had controlled the dry middle stint of the race at the Sochi Autodrom, absorbing the pressure from Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton behind him.
But with rain spitting down with five laps to go, Hamilton dived into the pits for Intermediates. Norris opted to stay out but, with the rain worsening, wasn't able to keep up the pace and he slid off – handing the lead to Hamilton within sight of the chequered flag.
Hakkinen is no stranger to winning races for McLaren, having claimed all 20 of his Grand Prix victories and two World Championships with the team. The Finn, who celebrates his 53rd birthday this week on Tuesday, wrote in his column for Unibet about his empathy for the cruel nature of Norris' loss.
"I felt sorry for Lando Norris who drove brilliantly all weekend, grabbed pole position in difficult conditions and dominated the race until the rain arrived," he wrote.
"After finishing second to McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo in Italy you could really sense his determination and focus on getting the win in Sochi. No one should blame him for making the decision to try and keep his lead when the rain started to fall.
"It is easy to criticise, but when you are trying to score your first win in F1 you often have [to] face difficult decisions. In this case, the decision to stop felt harder than the decision to carry on and try to take the win.
"Lando has great car control, particularly in the wet, so it came down to how confident he felt and how much risk he was prepared to take."
Hakkinen explained that Norris was right, in his opinion, to take the decision on whether to pit for Intermediates, as he's the one who can gauge the grip level out on track.
"No matter what the team is thinking, the driver is the one who knows how much grip he has in the car," he said.
"You feel it through your hands on the steering wheel, your feet on the pedals and the seat of your pants in the car. As the grip falls away only you know which parts of the track are still dry enough, and Lando felt he might be able to get the car to the finish – especially when Lewis Hamilton made his pit-stop for Intermediate tyres.
"But the moment the rain became heavy Lando had no chance. It's like trying to walk on ice on normal shoes!
"It was a brave gamble, and to see how disappointed he, Daniel and the McLaren team are to finish fourth and seventh shows just how high their ambitions are at this stage in the season.
"As I have said before, I have no doubt Lando's first win is not far away. He should be proud of his performance on Sunday."
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