Winners and Spinners - Portimão Practice and Qualifying
A bit delayed in getting to you, but here's what I think from Friday and Saturday, and here's what to look forward to later today!
I do quite like that Alpine livery too.
Esteban Ocon - With a new floor on his Alpine, the young Frenchman has managed to draw some supreme pace out of the A521 all weekend. Often underrated as a driver, it's easy to overlook Esteban, but after a podium and strong performances last year, it looks as though he's now found his stride with his car and can keep that momentum going, possibly becoming a pain in the backside for the likes of Alpha Tauri, Ferrari and maybe even McLaren from time to time. Good show.
Clipping along nicely.
Sebastian Vettel - I shouldn't be praising a four-time world champion for making it into Q3, but here we are. Seb seems to be getting on top of his Aston Martin and made the most of the low grip conditions, beating out his teammate and bagging a strong starting point on the grid. Maybe this is the start of the Vettel renaissance? Fingers crossed.
On it more and more each weekend. We love to see this from Checo.
Sergio Perez - Moving to Red Bull to partner Max is always a big job. Constantly marshalled under the watchful eye of Helmut Marko, you need to be on Max's diffuser the entire time, and now it seems Checo has found the pace and style needed to be The Dutchman's rear gunner. Hopefully, this growth and stability will keep springing forth and bringing the fight to Mercedes more and more each race week. Quali is never Sergio's strong point, but his long runs in practice prove that he has found the speed in his RB16B when he can get into the groove of his tyres. With cool conditions and a poor choice of compounds this weekend this could be Sergio's race to dominate.
That's just a stunning photograph. Love it.
Carlos Sainz - No longer overdriving the car, Carlos is now able to outpace Charles. The Ferrari seems to be a chassis that you have to work with, less dominant than in other years. Dance around its flaws, not try and push through them. Like many of the other drivers I've mentioned so far, he's found his feet in his new car and is looking to be a nuisance to the top of the field.
Still not certain about this 99p store livery.
George Russell - So, so close to Q3, the Williams looks like a car of two halves. The car George has at times looks to be a completely different car to Latifi's. Not poles apart, but there's a marked difference in what each can extract from that chassis and engine set up, making it seem as if they are putting out two different cars. Possibly the chassis set up better suits George, it is his third year in the team, so it'd make sense for him to be more settled. If Russell can keep his nose clean around Portimao, he could be in for some points this weekend.
If you're Guenther Steiner you're kicking yourself right now.
Callum Illot - The ultimate "this is what you could have had" to Haas. we love to see it. Demonstrating some wicked pace in the Alfa Romeo, properly putting the smoke up Kimi's bottom, not that Kimi really cares, but it's a strong show of what he's got. Outpacing Latifi and the Haas drivers, it was a mature drive from Callum in FP1, hanging around the garages throughout the weekend absorbing everything that's around him. Despite a year out from Formula racing, there's still an unquenchable fire in his belly. Shame there's only two seats at Ferrari, and a very long queue.
Maybe he'll recover well and will pass Lando. Maybe this'll be Lando coming to lap Danny in the race. Who knows?
Daniel Ricciardo - I want Daniel to get the best out of his McLaren. I want him to really bring the fight to Norris and put the willies up Bottas, Charles and Carlos. He has the skills to do it, but it is just a case of adapting those skills to the MCL35M.
How many blokes does it take to fix a racetrack?
Whoever built the circuit - Having to mastic your circuit back together isn't a good move. Especially after Seb dislodged a drain cover last year.
Fernando Alonso - This is not the F1 he wanted to come back to. Looping it in FP3, struggling to keep pace with his teammate, especially when his teammate is properly hammering in some incredibly potent laps. Unfavourable conditions so far this weekend have hampered his chance to close up the gaps. The pace is there in the Alpine, it's just a question of whether he can find it?
One step softer and I reckon we'd have a better race. I'm willing to be proved wrong.
Pirelli - On such a low grip circuit, was it wise to wheel out the three hardest compounds? In a race where last year once you'd gotten the opening laps of excitement done, it was a little dull? Add some spice, give us a softer compound and some more key pit strategies at least.
Lance Stroll - We've seen that he's gotten a grip of his Aston Martin better and sooner than his teammate, but this weekend so far has been a mixed bag as he's adjusted to a few upgrades sent down from Silverstone. Maybe he'll pick it up on race day? We wait and see.
Not a happy bunny post qualifying. Again.
Max Verstappen - Track limits! What would have been a pole at one point if not for a stray beyond the track limits! Come on Max! He was so close to not registering a time in Q3! perhaps Portimao is more of a Mercedes track so they'll have the edge, maybe they were able to turn their tyres on for qualifying laps better than Max and Sergio could. It's all still a little close to call two races in. All in, I'm hoping for more from Max in the race, another rocket start battling Lewis and Bottas into the opening turns, it could be enough to spook Bottas back into Perez, a Red Bull 2/3 could be good.
Does the Ferrari look comically short in this shot?
Ferrari - A strong overall performance from the team in red so far this weekend. The car is coming onto a steady form, which is promising for a battle for third but either Carlos or Charles will need to get a wriggle on to catch Lando in the points and close up the 7 point gap to McLaren.
If he can get a good start today, Nicholas could have a trouble-free race. A strong tyre strat would really help him.
Williams - No longer the worst car on the grid it's a delight to see them getting things together. Now it's just a case of getting some more performance out of Latifi. Driver coaching? Sim time? Private sessions in an older chassis? There's got to be something to keep him ahead of the melee that is Haas.
That is Bottas. Trust me.
Mercedes - Oh, we're back to the same old, same old from Mercedes. A Merc 1/2 in qualifying with Bottas denying Hamilton his 100th pole this time out. We've come to expect this consistency and dominance from the Brackley boys at this point, but how will the race go? Bottas has a good starting point for the race with a premium run down to turn 1, but behind him is a title fight with one point in it!
This angle really shows how drastic the elevation changes are in Portugal.
Alpha Tauri - I don't want to say they've taken their finger off the pulse, it is more a case that some of the other teams have gotten theirs onto the pulse. Aston Martin getting their act together, Ferrari coming onto form, Russell and Ocon digging in for all they've got, this surge from behind has diluted standout performances from Alpha Tauri so far this weekend. So far. If the slippery circuit continues to prove an equal adversary for all the drivers it'll be a case of who finds the grip, something the high-rake AT02 might have an edge at.
Maybe some points for the Italian driver this weekend?
Alfa Romeo - Showing strong pace at the lower end of the midfield, Giovinazzi will be chomping at the bit for a points finish. This year's car is coming through to seem fairly neutral, while not a handful it isn't dynamically sparkling. We'll see how it goes, I don't have much to say about them at this point. Nice to see Callum though.
Mick, we love you. You're doing great sweetie.
Haas - That lack of development is beginning to really show as Aston martin and Alpine get their acts together leaving them behind. Nikita still tails Mick, at one point the gaps were vast from not just Nikita to Max but also Nikita to Mick. The adage of money can't buy you talent is ringing true once more.
A good starting position, but having set the bar so high in Imola, Lando has a big task to clear it again.
Lando Norris - Come qualifying we didn't see the same firecracker pace from Lando that we'd seen in rounds 1 and 2, but again this could be down to the speed of the cars behind closing up to him, the same point as with Alpha Tauri. I have hopes he'll pull something out of the bag in the race. You've got this Lando.