Portugese GP Friday F1 Talk: drivers adore Algarve, Ferrari pace, & more
Friday of the Portuguese GP had lots of positive words for the Algarve circuit as a red flag hampered the performances of everyone.
Driving F1 cars at Algarve for the first time in his career in the Portuguese GP weekend, Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas topped the timesheets in both FP1 and FP2, as he eclipsed his teammate Lewis Hamilton in the former session, and dished out similar treatment to Red Bull's Max Verstappen in the afternoon.
Bottas led the field on a day wherein spins and unforced errors were aplenty, owing to a recent resurfacing of the new F1 track. The Finn was happy with his progress in spite of the difficult conditions, although he admitted that useful track time in FP2 was minimal thanks to a deluge of interruptions, and a track surface that had regressed somewhat from FP1 after gradually becoming grippier throughout the morning - a trend he expects to continue into Saturday and Sunday.
Bottas also had plenty of praise for the circuit itself, the undulation of which he and others appreciated. "It’s been a good day," he said. "The sun was shining, this is a great track for driving; it could definitely be worse. It was quite slippery out on track, it reminded me a lot of when we went to Sochi or Austin for the first time, and we drove on the new tarmac there. This type of tarmac is tricky in terms of getting grip.
"Once you lose the grip, you can drop the car quite quickly, and I think that’s the reason why we have seen so many spins today. The track was evolving lap by lap, and it got better throughout the day, but maybe it was reset slightly in between the two sessions, and with red flags in second practice there wasn’t that much useful running.
"I’m still expecting an increase in grip over the rest of the weekend. The balance of the car was also pretty good. I was mainly struggling in the slow speed corners with the rear end of the car but it is not too far away from where I want it, as the lap times would also suggest. But as always, there will be more work to do," said Bottas, whose ability to ward off threats even in the afternoon this weekend shows promise.
Certainly, his efforts were helped by stalled progress in Hamilton's side of the garage, as the Brit found his morning-specification W11 to be more agreeable than that which he drove in the afternoon. Limited running time in the day's waning hours did little to help his case. Despite difficulties and an eventual eighth-place finish in FP2, the 6-time world champion remained positive, having enjoyed a day on a track that left many on the grid smiling.
"The elevation changes on this F1 track are incredible," said Hamilton. "There’s a lot of places where you just can’t see where you are going, so that’s very challenging and the surface is also very smooth. I think track conditions didn’t change that much throughout the day. The wind picked up, and I don’t know if it changed direction, but it made it tricky out there. Unfortunately we ended up sitting in the garage for much longer than we’d hoped for with the two red flags in FP2.
"I think FP1 was the better session for me, even though the car didn’t feel that great. We then made some changes, and it felt quite bad in FP2, so we need to take a few steps back and figure out where we went wrong with the set-up. Looking ahead, it is not going to get any easier to get a clear gap out there on the track, because it is really tough to get the tyres in the right window for the first lap here, even with the soft, which is actually pretty hard for a soft compound," summed up Hamilton.
More consistent than Hamilton across the two F1 sessions, despite adversity, Verstappen came third in FP1, improving by one position in the session succeeding it. The Dutchman endured an eventful day, as he spun early on, and tangled with Racing Point's Lance Stroll as they headed into turn one of the unfamiliar circuit.
Though controversial, the FIA deemed the incident one with equal blame on both sides. Verstappen was able to continue on in the session. He does, however, question whether or not he will be able to challenge Mercedes with such performance. "It was quite tricky out there and the new tarmac seems slippery with only one proper line to use as you lose a lot of grip if you run wide," said Verstappen.
"The wind also picked up in the afternoon but overall I think we improved the car from FP1 to FP2 so it all felt a little bit nicer to drive. We will keep trying to improve even further as there are still things we can do better around here," he said, before touching on his experiences with Pirelli's prototype tyres, which were tested by all F1 teams in the first 30 minutes of FP2.
"It was interesting to try two new compounds of Pirelli tyres. We don’t know what they were but one set felt a bit better than the other but they both felt nice. I’m not sure if they are faster than what we usually use but I don’t have anything negative to say. It is difficult to say if we can fight Mercedes this weekend as they look very quick but never say never."
His teammate Alexander Albon explained that stiffening wind and a green track surface contributed to a lack of grip, as did declining track temperatures. Having come fifth and 10th in the day's sessions, he stated that times were unrepresentative of genuine pace in the 'erratic' field.
Renault failed to build on progress from prior rounds Friday, the French F1 outfit perhaps not adapting to the challenges of the track and its especially high-downforce nature. Both of the team's drivers appreciated the circuit in its complexity, though one by the name of Daniel Ricciardo described the day as one that is somewhat "frustrating".
"The track is really cool and it’s very up and down with a lot of blind spots," said Ricciardo. "The surface is a little difficult to drive on currently with very low grip as it’s quite new. But it’s obviously the same for everyone. I think overall it was a little frustrating today and we didn’t get a lot of good running done. We’ve got some homework to do tonight that’s for sure, but I think we’ll be okay.
"I think qualifying will be luck of the draw when it comes to getting a clean lap and managing the tyres," he said, after coming P9 and P13 in FP1 and FP2 respectively. His teammate Esteban Ocon, meanwhile, projected that finding grip where it is scarce will be the biggest challenge of the F1 weekend. He had an oil leak at the end of FP1 but the team were able to fix it.
At McLaren, Carlos Sainz, who pounded out 74 laps and came sixth and fifth while doing so, remained worried that sloppy running from his adversaries made for unrepresentative lap times. The Spaniard fears that he could be caught out if others improve their laps drastically come Saturday, and as such stressed that he needs to tweak his MCL35's set-up.
“We managed to finish the session fairly high up on the standings without particularly clean runs or clean laps," said Sainz. "That means everyone has a very large margin for improvement going into Saturday. We still need to improve the car quite a bit overnight and make sure we get it in the right window." His teammate Norris added similarly that his lack of pace has become shrouded by mistakes from his competitors, unlikely to be repeated as the weekend progresses.
"I’m not comfortable enough in the car going into the race to be confident that we can do really well," said Norris. "So, we’ve got a bit of work to do tonight, and hopefully we can improve. At points, we’ve looked competitive, and then at other points, we started to struggle a little bit. But it’s just weird how the tyres are working this weekend.
"I can’t get them to work properly for Lap 1, so then you need Lap 2 and Lap 3 until they get better. But then you get traffic and everyone’s trying to do the same thing, so it will be interesting come qualifying when everyone’s trying to get a nice gap, and get the tyres in the right window."
In contrast, the Ferrari duo could be seen around the paddock on Friday with a spring in their step, after a day of competitive efforts was capped-off by a P4-P6 finish for Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel respectively. Neither were unique in that they had a distaste for the circuit. Instead they both raved about it, in keeping with the attitude upheld by the rest of the grid.
"This track is amazing," said Leclerc. "It took quite a few laps to find the flow, because you don’t really see any apexes but once you get into the rhythm, it’s really good." He fell victim to the low grip early on in FP1, spinning after a snap of oversteer. "The circuit is also extremely slippery and the rear of the car is moving everywhere but I think that makes it even better in terms of fun," he continued.
"The grip level didn’t improve much throughout the sessions, which should make for an exciting race. It looked quite good for us and, mainly on the qualifying side, it was fairly promising. Let’s wait and see though, as we haven’t had much high-fuel running with normal tyres, as we did some with the prototype-tyres instead. Running with high fuel was actually our weakness at the last race, so it’ll be a bit of a surprise on Sunday and we’ll see where we are."
Vettel, meanwhile, added that he expects the F1 track to become grippier Saturday, after a Friday he described as "difficult" despite displaying pace unmatched by the Ferrari pairing at only select points in prior rounds, as they debut new upgrades.
Racing Point had a difficult time of things Friday, their pace inconsistent with their perceived potential. In contrast with others, Sergio Perez, who also spun, questioned the notion that track evolution will be present this F1 weekend as it is at so many, while his teammate Stroll spoke on his incident with Verstappen, and stated that there remains work to do for Saturday.
AlphaTauri made headlines in the day for Pierre Gasly's session-stopping mechanical failure, the consequence of which was his car being set ablaze. The Frenchman explained his issue is still being investigated. His teammate Daniil Kvyat, meanwhile, stated that interruptions in FP2 left an unclear picture.
Alfa Romeo had an uneventful day, with both drivers only stating that they expect the track to progress, while Haas' day was entirely different. Romain Grosjean went beyond the track limits, as did many others - a fact leading to 125 lap time deletions, but in the Frenchman's instance, he took a trip through the gravel.
Grosjean explained that the mandatory Pirelli test hampered his F1 team's running, this being compounded by red flags. His teammate Kevin Magnussen echoed a similar message. Finally, at Williams, the day was "relatively productive" in the eyes of George Russell, who experienced more grip as the day reached its end. Nicholas Latifi also had a good day, and expressed appreciation for Algarve, though he struggled slightly more with the interruptions.
[This story was written by me for FormulaRapida and edited by Darshan Chokhani]