A fight for the win! F1 2021 Season Review: Portugal
An in-depth look at the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix.
The third race of the 2021 Formula One season see's the circus return to Portugal - a track that was absent from an F1 calendar for 24 years until the COVID-19 pandemic caused mayhem last year. The Portimão circuit saw its second race in seven months this weekend, and boy did it deliver with another tense battle for the victory.
Before we get into the race, let's rewind back to Saturday afternoon and see who qualified where for this afternoon's race.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in qualifying yesterday was the elimination of Daniel Ricciardo in Q1. The Australian was unable to set a time fast enough to get his McLaren into Q2, but only missed out by four-hundredths of a second. Lance Stroll not getting his Aston Martin into Q2 was also a surprise in the first session, with the Canadian only setting a lap fast enough for 17th, one place behind Ricciardo. Nicolas Latifi would start in 18th, followed by Schumacher in 19th and Mazepin in 20th.
Q2 was a fantastic session for George Russell and the two Alfa Romeo drivers, with Russell putting his Williams in 11th place and with only half-a-tenth being the margin between him and a Q3 finish. Antonio Giovinazzi would start alongside the Briton in 12th place, with a tenth being the difference between the pair. Alonso and Tsunoda would start behind them in 13th and 14th places respectively, with Kimi Raikkonen setting the slowest time in Q2 and starting in 15th place.
It was Max Verstappen that set the pace in the first Q3 run, though a bit of oversteer in the middle sector saw the Dutchman have his lap time deleted and drop down to tenth place again. Valtteri Bottas took the Red Bull driver's place at the top of the scoreboard with a time only seven-thousandths of a second quicker than his seven-time world championship winning teammate, Lewis Hamilton.
On the final Q3 runs, both Mercedes drivers opted to use the Medium tyres instead of the usual Soft tyres as that was their preference in terms of one-lap pace; while Verstappen chose the Softs. Verstappen set a time only good enough for third place, while neither Mercedes driver improved their time. Bottas took his first pole position of 2021 as a result, followed by Hamilton in second and Verstappen in third. Sergio Perez made the second row a Red Bull lockout by qualifying fourth, ahead of Carlos Sainz, who outqualified his teammate to position 5.
Esteban Ocon would put his Alpine in sixth place, ahead of McLaren's Lando Norris in seventh. Charles Leclerc would start behind them in eighth, followed by Pierre Gasly in ninth and Sebastian Vettel in tenth.
Now that we are all caught up with qualifying, let's move on to the race!
As the five red lights went out for another race at Portimão, it was Bottas that had the edge over Hamilton going into the high-speed Turn 1. Max Verstappen tried to tuck into the slipstream of the world champion, but was unable to draw alongside. Perez lost fourth place to the Ferrari of Sainz at Turn 1 after not getting enough heat into the tyres. Norris also lost a position to Ocon at the Turn 5 hairpin, but re-took the place after a fantastic swoop around the outside of Turn 11 and pinning the car on the apex of Turn 12.
As the train of cars ended Lap 1, a large piece of body work was flung into the air, belonging to Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn had attempted a move on his teammate, but expected him to move further and caught his back wheel. The number 7 driver lost half of his front wing while the other half fell below his front wheels, causing him to run through the gravel at Turn 1 and retire from the race.
The safety car was deployed as a result of this, and would stay out until the end of lap 6.
On the restart, Bottas decided he wasn't going to do Hamilton any favours and didn't launch until the very last moment. Verstappen anticipated this and drew alongside Hamilton, to which Bottas gave the Dutchman a slipstream to pass his Mercedes teammate into Turn 1. This is a very similar game that the number 77 played at Russia last year, when he 'intentionally' gave Verstappen a slipstream in qualifying in order to maximise his chances in the race.
Sergio Perez and Lando Norris caught Carlos Sainz napping on the restart by passing him at Turn 1 and 2, with Norris then passing Perez down the inside at Turn 5 - it was a brilliant start from the young McLaren driver!
Fast-forward to lap 10 and Lewis Hamilton is starting to use his tyres and find a rhythm; before getting a great launch off the final corner. Verstappen had a kick of oversteer at Turn 14, which left him vulnerable to Hamilton on the main straight as the DRS flap opened on the back of the Mercedes. Hamilton switches to the inside and glides his way past the Red Bull driver at Turn 1, promoting him back to second place.
Another fastest lap is set by Hamilton on lap 13 as he starts to catch his teammate for the lead; while Tsunoda is warned by his race engineer that if he keeps exceeding track limits at Turn 1, he will receive a penalty.
On Lap 20, Hamilton caught Bottas and entered the slipstream on the main straight. Bottas went defensive and placed his car on the inside, but Hamilton swooped around the outside in a breath-taking move at Turn 1, crucially keeping the car within track limits. Verstappen had started to drop back at this point, but Hamilton's desire to take the lead left the provisional championship standings looking good.
Sainz, one of the drivers to start on the Soft tyres, was the first driver to pit on lap 22; switching to the Medium tyre. Tsunoda follows the Spaniard into the pits and also fits a set of Medium tyres; while Norris responds to the threat of an undercut by pitting for Medium tyres a lap later.
Alpine's Ocon pits on lap 23 and fits the Hard tyre, as does Antonio Giovinazzi for Alfa Romeo. Sebastian Vettel pits for Medium tyres on lap 23, while Gasly and Latifi fit the same compound on lap 25. Leclerc, who was on a different strategy, becomes the first user of the Medium tyre to pit on lap 26, opting to race with the Hard tyre.
Williams left George Russell out on his tyres for a very long time, inevitably causing him to lose positions to Ocon, Vettel and other drivers on fresh tyres until lap 32, where he was overtaken for 18th place by Latifi on fresh tyres. It wasn't a good start for Russell, who had been so close to starting in the top 10 on Saturday.
At this stage, Hamilton started to complain about tyre wear as he had pushed hard to pass Bottas. Meanwhile, Verstappen was catching the second place Mercedes driver; but reported to not have access to third gear - which would have been somewhat problematic in the middle sector.
Verstappen is the first of the front runners to pit on lap 36, switching the Medium tyres he started on for a fresh set of Hard tyres. Instead of responding to the undercut with Hamilton, Mercedes opted to prioritise Bottas with the stops to allow Hamilton to build a gap. Bottas pushed on his in-lap and pitted as the counter hit 37, also fitting a set of Hard tyres to his W12.
The 31-year old emerged from the pits ahead of Verstappen, but was unable to fend the Red Bull off with his cold tyres. Verstappen had found the right temperature on his outlap, and took advantage of Bottas' squirming car to take the place at Turn 5.
Lewis Hamilton pitted at the end of Lap 38 to cover his teammate and Verstappen, mirroring their strategy of using the Hard tyre. The Briton had built a big enough gap to emerge ahead of them after the pitstops, with Sergio Perez taking the lead (though he hadn't stopped yet). Meanwhile, Ferrari switch the order of their drivers, giving Leclerc the chance to push.
Alonso makes a pitstop on lap 41, while his Alpine teammate, Ocon, starts to pressure a struggling Sainz for eighth place. Daniel Ricciardo, who started down in 16th, finally made his first pitstop on lap 42 of 66, switching his battered set of Medium tyres for a fresh set of Hard tyres. The number 3 driver was running in fifth place before making his pitstop, but emerged from the pits in tenth place.
Toto Wolff comes onto the team radio for a somewhat deflated Valtteri Bottas in fourth place, telling him to pick the pace up as he was the fastest car on track, just as Hamilton had beaten his purple lap time. The Mercedes principal wanted to convert their 1-2 in qualifying into a 1-2 race result, but Bottas reported a loss of engine power - which included a sensor failure - later in the race on lap 55.
Lap 46 sees Nikita Mazepin under investigation from the stewards after holding up race leader, Perez, who had somehow stretched his Medium set of tyres 46 laps. The Mexican was rapidly being caught by Hamilton on his Hard tyres, and it was clear that Red Bull wanted to make use of Perez's excellent tyre management to try and hold up the lead Mercedes driver. Mazepin was awarded a 5-second time penalty as a result of holding up Perez.
Ocon, who had been hunting down Sainz for many laps finally made a move around the outside of Turn 1 on lap 45. Further back, teammate Alonso passes Gasly for tenth place on Lap 49, followed by Ricciardo for ninth place a couple of laps later. The Alpine showed great pace over the race weekend, with straight-line speed being a big benefit for the French outfit on the long, main straight.
Hamilton catches up to Perez and overtakes the Red Bull driver on the main straight to take the lead on lap 51. Red Bull immediately box their new driver for a set of Soft tyres on lap 52, in an attempt to get the fastest lap. Sainz starts to really struggle on his tyres and loses place a place to Alonso on lap 58; as well as Ricciardo and Gasly shortly after, dropping him out of the points in a desperately disappointing weekend for the fifth-place starter.
Lance Stroll overtakes teammate Sebastian Vettel for 13th place on lap 60 in a disappointing weekend for the newly-branded Aston Martin F1 Team; while Schumacher takes advantage of a mistake from Latifi at Turn 2 to take 17th place.
Mercedes pit Bottas on Lap 64 when they realise he wasn't going to catch Verstappen in an attempt to score an extra point for the fastest lap. Red Bull respond by pitting Verstappen - who also was not going to catch Hamilton - who also wanted to score an extra point. Mercedes gave the option to Hamilton to pit, but decided to conservatively not risk a mistake and keep the lead. Hamilton would go on to win, ahead of Verstappen in second place and Bottas in third on lap 66.
Verstappen crossed the line on the final lap with the fastest lap, but had his time deleted after running wide and abusing track limits at the final corner; resulting in Bottas taking home the extra point. You can find the full race results in the Tweet below:
Overall, I would rate the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix a 7.5 out of 10. The race offered a lot of action up front, with an impressive comeback from Lewis Hamilton, who did a superb job to overtake both of his championship rivals and win the race. What did you think of the race? Let us know in the comments below!
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