The key winners and losers from the Portuguese GP
Which drivers produced eye-catching performances, and who must bounce back at this weekend's Emilia Romagna GP?
Where better to start than with Lewis Hamilton. The Briton made Formula 1 history this weekend by taking a record-breaking 92nd career victory. He now stands alone as the most successful driver the sport has ever seen in terms of race victories after he surpassed Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91 wins. It is now just a matter of when not if he will become a 7-time F1 World Champion. His championship lead now stands at 77 points over Valtteri Bottas, which is the equivalent of over 3 race victories.
Hamilton started the weekend on the backfoot, trailing Bottas in all of the practice sessions. He took time to adapt to the undulating Algarve track, describing it as an “incredibly difficult circuit”. However, Hamilton made sure that he was on top when it counted pipping Bottas by 1 tenth of a second to claim his 97th pole position. While nothing should be taken away from Hamilton’s qualifying performance, it was undoubtedly a strategic error from the Bottas camp to only complete one flying lap in Q3.
The race was not entirely plain-sailing for the Brition who went backwards a few corners into the Grand Prix. By the end of the first lap, he found himself in P3 after making a cautious start in the low-grid conditions. In reality, though, Hamilton was playing the long game and just bided his time. Hamilton used his wealth of experience to gather the necessary information on what parts of the track to place his car in the tricky conditions. He soon hit back, first taking Carlos Sainz before re-taking the lead from Bottas on lap 20. From then on, he never looked back. He took another grand slam: pole, fastest lap and the race win. He crossed the line a staggering 25.5 seconds ahead of Bottas. He lapped the entire field up to 5th placed Pierre Gasly such is the dominance of Hamilton and Mercedes. At 35, Hamilton is still at the peak of his career and everything is going his way as it has been largely since 2014.
The young Monegasque driver also produced a noteworthy performance this weekend, qualifying and finishing P4 for Ferrari. He is once again out-performing that car and team-mate Vettel who did not even make it to Q3 in qualifying and the German claimed just a solitary point. He also had a relatively cautious start, finding himself down in P8 at the end of lap 3. But when everything settled back down he made his way back up the field. He benefitted from Sergio Perez falling to the back of the field after contact with Max Verstappen on lap 1. Although, he passed Raikkonen, Ricciardo and the fast-starting McLarens on merit. Ferrari could not have asked anything more from Leclerc, who is single-handedly carrying the team this season. P4 was the absolute maximum result that could be achieved from the SF1000 under normal circumstances this weekend.
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Pierre was on the pace all weekend, and qualified P9 for AlphaTauri. He kept his nose clean at the start, rather smartly watching the chaos unfold in front of him. He completed lap 1 in P10 before making a bold move on Alex Albon at turn 2 on the second lap. As the race progressed, he steadily moved up the order. In the closing laps of the Grand Prix, Gasly passed Perez to claim P5. This was the Frenchman’s second consecutive top 6 finish and third overall of the season. Gasly has so much confidence in himself and the car this season, and his results are really showing that. Despite this, there does not seem to be anything that Gasly can do to convince Red Bull to take a second chance on him for 2021. Perhaps there is something that Red Bull believe is missing with Gasly, or that he is needed at AlphaTauri as their team leader following the their change in status to now Red Bull’s ‘sister’, rather than ‘junior’ team.
Checo made an excellent start for Racing Point from P5 on the grid and almost found himself in P3 just behind the two Mercedes before Max Verstappen clipped the Mexican’s rear left tyre and sent him spinning around. He re-joined the track in last and so decided to make an early pitstop at the end of the opening lap to provide him with strategic options later in the race. The Mexican flew back through the field and was running as high as P5, but had to settle for P7 as his soft tyres gave up on him towards the end of the race. He demonstrated excellent wheel-to-wheel racing, most notably with the Renault of Esteban Ocon. Is this the performance which persuades Red Bull to hire him for 2021?
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A noteworthy mention: Kimi Raikkonen's start
Kimi’s lap 1 of the Grand Prix was sensational, there is no other word for it. He made up 10 places from P16 on the grid to P6 which he held until lap 8. Unfortunately, the Finn could do nothing to stop the faster cars from passing him as the DRS zone on the start-finish straight was far too powerful, enabling drivers to just breeze past their rivals with ease. No form of defence could stop a DRS assisted pass this weekend. While Kimi eventually finished P11, any questions regarding his motivation and desire to continue in F1 should be dispelled. Kimi loves F1, and deserves a more competitive car to showcase his talent.
Albon’s time to secure his seat at Red Bull Racing is quickly running out, with Christian Horner confirming this weekend that a decision on who will be Verstappen’s team-mate next season will be made “within the next few weeks”. The Portuguese GP was a one of two key races for Albon to save his Red Bull future as Horner stated at the start of the weekend that “he needs to bounce back here I think, and particularly Imola, with a strong, strong weekend from start to finish”.
Albon qualified his Red Bull P6, half a second adrift of Verstappen on one of the very shortest tracks on the calendar. He also had Leclerc and Perez splitting himself and his Dutch team-mate. This fell short of Red Bull’s expectations to have the second row of the grid locked out so they have the best possible opportunity to pressurise the Mercedes on track and with alternative strategies.
The London-born Thai driver probably had the worst start in the field. By the beginning of lap 2, he had fallen all out of the points to P12. This put him on the backfoot from the outset, and it was something that he was unable to recover from. The daring, late-braking overtakes were completely absent from Albon all afternoon. He seemed to have a complete lack of confidence with the car, and spent the majority of the race stuck in traffic. A further stop for fresh tyres did not do anything to change his finishing position. He ended up P12, a lap down. Being lapped by team-mate Verstappen will perhaps be the final nail in the coffin for Albon. He must do something spectacular at Imola in what is most likely his final opportunity before the big announcement from Red Bull.
Another Red Bull contracted driver whose future is looking increasingly uncertain as a number of Yuki Tsunoda eyes his seat for 2021. The Russian was out-qualified by Gasly and again failed to make Q3 as he could only manage 13th on the grid. He was in desperate need of a good race. This was not to be for Kyvat, who ran the at the rear of the field for the majority of the race. He finished plum last, 2 laps down on the leaders. With his Red Bull career seemingly over, he must use the 5 remaining races to put himself in the shop window for next year, whether that is in the form of a test driver role again or if he wishes to compete in other series.
Stroll made his comeback to racing after missing the Eifel GP due to illness which turned out to be coronavirus. However, his weekend was nothing but chaotic from start to finish. In the second Friday Free Practice session, Stroll collided with Verstappen at turn 1. Although, both escaped without penalty. He struggled for qualifying pace in comparison to Perez, and could only manage 12th on the grid. Stroll’s race day consisted of a collision with Lando Norris at the same corner he had contact with Verstappen on the Friday. Stroll closed up to Norris with the aid of the DRS, but decided to go on the outside of Norris and aggressively cut across the Briton as they approached the corner, leaving Norris with nowhere to go but take Stroll out. In hindsight, it would have been far easier for Lance to have passed Norris on the inside which was left wide open. The stewards awarded Stroll a 5-second time penalty for the causing a collision. He also received another time penalty for repeatedly exceeding track limits. It was definitely a weekend to forget for Stroll who accumulated three penalty points from the GP. Racing Point desperately need Stroll to return to form at Imola as the fight for 3rd place in the Constructors’ standings with McLaren and Renault intensifies with just 5 races remaining.