The third race of the 2021 Formula One season took place at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve. The race is covered here by our F1 correspondent Nick van der Meulen in his report F1 Review Portuguese GP 2021.
The Portuguese Grand Prix returns to the undulating Portimao in the picturesque Algarve region. Portimao is a challenging circuit, with gradient changes, off-camber corners and blind apexes, making it difficult to find the perfect braking point. Despite the recently resurfaced track, it is slippery and known to be one of the lowest grip circuits on the calendar.
Following their dominance in Portugal last season, Mercedes continued its rich vein of form by locking out the front row in qualifying, however, it was Valtteri Bottas who took pole position and preventing world champion Lewis Hamilton from claiming it for the 100th time.
While the Finn led proceedings in the early stages, the Englishman surged past to take the lead and was never headed. Hamilton claimed his 97th Grand Prix victory and extended his world championship lead to eight points. Bottas struggled with his machine during the race, even losing power due to a faulty exhaust sensor, but managed to salvage third position after a disastrous round at Imola last time out.
Mercedes and Red Bull Racing were head and shoulders clear of the rest of the field, with Red Bull Racing-Honda pilots Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez locking out the second row of the grid. Perez had his hands full at the start, having to deal with a spirited Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) but, once he regained the upper hand and pitted late, he cruised to a comfortable fourth place.
Verstappen, as ever, tried valiantly to be the fly in the Mercedes ointment, however, he was not close enough to challenge the might of Hamilton and had to settle for second place. He showed delight in claiming the fastest lap on the final lap, but even that slight satisfaction was denied the Dutchman when the lap was cancelled by the stewards due to track limits being exceeded.
Lando Norris (McLaren Mercedes) had another good weekend at the office, easily coming out on top in the battle for the best of the rest and finishing a fine fifth. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo had a disastrous start to the weekend, being ousted in Q1 and having to start 16th. The Australian ran long until his pit stop and managed to salvage points by finishing ninth.
Ferrari remains the fourth best team on the grid, with Charles Leclerc finishing behind Norris in sixth. Sainz will be ruing his switch to medium rubber, while his rivals all switched to the harder tyre compound. He was competitive throughout the day, but faded into the clutches of his rivals and was powerless to defend himself. The Spaniard will be disgruntled with a non-points-scoring result, 11th place.
Alpine made the most strides between Imola and Portimao and eyebrows were raised at Esteban Ocon’s performance in qualifying, as well as the race. The Frenchman, again, trounced teammate and double world champion Fernando Alonso, finishing seventh. The Spaniard had a strong end to his race and climbed the leader board to finish an eventual eighth.
While Sergio Perez was voted Driver of the Day at Portimao, this fan believes that accolade should go to Mick Schumacher (Haas-Ferrari). The German, although too polite and conscientious behind the wheel, drove extremely well to finish ahead of Nicolas Latifi in 17th place, over one minute ahead of teammate Nikita Mazepin.
There was only retirement from the race: Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo). The Finn clipped the rear of teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, shattering his front wing and sending him into the gravel trap at Turn 1 – bringing out the safety car.
The next round of the F1 world championship takes place in one week, at the Spanish Grand Prix at Catalunya. It is a circuit familiar to the teams and drivers, as it has been a favourite test circuit over the years. It will be interesting to see how much development work, if any, will take place over a period of five days…