2021 Portuguese GP Report | Hamilton Takes Round 3
A frustrating weekend for Verstappen, but the fight remains very much on.
Lewis Hamilton fought back past title rival Max Verstappen and team-mate Valtteri Bottas to take victory at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
The World Champion had missed out on pole number 100 by just 0.007 seconds on Saturday and fell back to third early in the race on Sunday. An uncharacteristic mistake from Kimi Räikkönen, as he bizarrely drove into the back of his Alfa Romeo team-mate on the start-finish straight, brought about an early safety car. Hamilton was caught out when he "literally just for a split second" checked his mirror to see where Verstappen was and "in that split second, that’s when Valtteri went". With the jump on Hamilton, Verstappen passed him into the first corner and set about pressuring the leading Mercedes.
The Red Bull was clearly faster in the tighter, middle section of the track but lacked the straight-line speed to make a pass on the straight, even with DRS. And when Verstappen suffered a moment of oversteer coming through the penultimate corner, Hamilton was able to retake the place, bravely diving to the inside as the Dutchman defended. Verstappen tried to come back at the second corner but Hamilton was able to repay the favour he received in Imola, taking the racing line and running his rival out of road.
It was as close as ever between Hamilton and Verstappen. (Photo: Autosport.)
Hamilton closed in on his team-mate and, as they started lap 20, pulled off another daring overtake, sweeping around the outside of Bottas into Turn One. From there, the Briton never looked under threat. Behind him, Bottas continued to hold off Verstappen as he had earlier in the race, until Red Bull pulled the trigger and attempted an undercut with a pit stop on lap 35. A slightly tardy stop for Bottas one lap later put him under pressure from the onrushing Verstappen. As the Finn slithered about on his cold tyres, and then got a bit sideways coming out of Turn Three, Verstappen was able to get alongside him on the straight and take the position.
Bottas was homing back in on second place later in the race, but a sensor issue caused him to lose power briefly and he failed to close the gap again. Sergio Pérez, in the second Red Bull, had done his trademark tyre-whispering job and eventually pitted for soft tyres with 15 laps remaining. The Mexican is yet to claim his first podium for Red Bull but a solid fourth at the chequered flag is his best result yet and what the Red Bull management brought him in to achieve.
Behind the leading teams, in 'Formula 1.5', Lando Norris continued his excellent form with a fine drive to fifth, including an opportunistic move around the outside of Esteban Ocon on the opening lap. Charles Leclerc came home in sixth, ahead of the Alpine pair of Ocon and Fernando Alonso. Daniel Ricciardo recovered well to ninth, after a disappointing qualifying had left him 16th on the grid, and Pierre Gasly completed the points finishers.
Verstappen and Bottas both went for the fastest lap late on. The Red Bull man completed the faster tour but lost the ensuing bonus point when his lap time was deleted for a track limits infringement. Further frustration for Verstappen after track limits had also denied him pole on Saturday. Christian Horner was content overall, though, saying that they were happy with second as they "knew this would be a track that favours Mercedes".
Hamilton finishes the weekend flying sky high. (Photo: racefans.net.)
This grand prix may not have had the thrills and spills of the first two races, but there were some great overtakes and the battle remains tight between the two protagonists at the top. They will continue their fight a bit further along the Mediterranean coast in Barcelona in just a few days time - the first of many double-headers this season.
PROGRESS AT ALPINE
It was a good weekend over in the blue corner of Alpine. The French team had so far struggled to get on top of their 2021 car and - after fighting for third in the championship last year - had slid back towards the back of the midfield.
There were updates in Imola which showed promise but perhaps required some more mileage to fully understand. Additional updates were brought to Portugal and, from the outset, they were visibly faster. The two drivers finished Friday afternoon's practice session in fifth and sixth and Ocon maintained that form on Saturday.
Whilst Alonso never looked comfortable after a spin early on in qualifying, his younger team-mate was flying. He finished Q1 and Q2 in fourth place and ultimately claimed sixth on the grid, just three thousandths of a second behind Leclerc.
Alpine are on the up.
And Sunday showed that their race pace was a match for their short runs. Alonso made amends for his scrappy qualifying with a thrilling comeback from 13th on the grid to eighth, finishing just a second behind his team-mate who, after losing an exciting early battle with Norris, had produced a mature drive worthy of his six points. "The car feels much better and much more alive and really competitive", said Alonso. "It has been a big step forward for us."
It remains to be seen whether the unique, blustery conditions in Portimão played to specific strengths of the Alpine car, but they will be satisfied with their progress and hope to remain a thorn in the side of McLaren and Ferrari in the battle for 'best of the rest'.