The third race of 2021’s Formula 1 season, the Portuguese Grand Prix is renowned for being a track where there is great potential for sensational overtaking. It was recently revived within the 2020 season for the first time since 1996, and fans were overjoyed that the track would be returning to the calendar this year as well.
Saturday’s qualifying session brought a few surprises both good and bad, the first of which being that Daniel Ricciardo didn’t make it past Q1, leaving him trailing near the back starting the race in P16. However, it wasn’t all disappointing – George Russell outperformed in his Williams to start in P11, and Sebastian Vettel deservedly made it through to Q3 to finish qualifying within the top 10.
Lewis Hamilton was aiming to take his 100th pole this weekend but this achievement was denied by his teammate Valtteri Bottas, leaving Hamilton starting second to complete the front row. Max Verstappen was unable to compete with the Mercedes during qualifying as he struggled to abide to track limits, but he ultimately ended up starting third on the grid.
Mercedes dominated the weekend once again, but not with the driver who achieved pole position. It was in fact Hamilton who took P1 in the race, his second win of 2021, whilst Bottas finished in third. Even though Bottas took the fastest lap of the race, he was ultimately unable to overtake Verstappen. The Red Bull driver, as he often does, once again found himself the filling of a Mercedes sandwich, finishing in second place.
The only DNF was Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, who crashed into his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, causing him to lose his front wing as well as other extensive damage to the car
Unlike the major incidents we saw at the previous race in Imola, there were not many incidents at Portimao. The only DNF was Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, who crashed into his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, causing him to lose his front wing as well as other extensive damage to the car. This left Raikkonen with no option but to retire from the race after only a few laps, leading to a Safety Car restart.
This Safety Car restart resulted in Hamilton losing a place, dropping to third. However, in true Hamilton style, this did not faze him at all. Before long he regained P2 from Verstappen, and then he quickly claimed the lead from Bottas with an impressively smooth overtake on his teammate which was made to look entirely effortless by the seven-time world champion.
Unlike Verstappen who has been on the podium every race so far this season, his new Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez is yet to appear on the podium. However, he did temporarily take lead of the race in lap 50, and he managed his best result of the year so far with P4. The second Red Bull seat has proven difficult for many talented drivers, but so far Perez has been performing promisingly.
McLaren’s Lando Norris also finished impressively, maintaining his statistic of finishing in the top five in every race of 2021 so far. He seems to have matured as a driver and so far this season he has been at the most competitive we have ever seen him. McLaren’s other driver Daniel Ricciardo started at a “grim” P16, but he redeemed himself and progressed to P9.
[Alpine] seem to have finally found their stride, with their performance in Portugal completely exceeding my expectations
The results of the two Alpine drivers were somewhat surprising. Both Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso finished in the top ten with P7 and P8 respectively. A team who has been through many changes for the 2021 season, they seem to have finally found their stride, with their performance in Portugal completely exceeding my expectations.
A more disappointing surprise was Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. He qualified an impressive P5, but he seemed to struggle to maintain this momentum during the race, finishing just outside the points as Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly overtook him in the final lap to finish in P10. Luckily, Charles Leclerc was able to bring Ferrari some points in P6.
Ultimately, Portimao may not have been the most exciting race of the season so far. There were no notable incidents and overall lacked any huge surprises, but the race redeemed itself with constant on-track battles and carefully calculated overtakes. It served as an exciting new chapter in 2021’s gripping Red Bull vs Mercedes championship battle, one that concluded in Mercedes’ favour.
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