F1 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix: Bottas heads Mercedes 1-2 in Portimao

It’s very early days, but with just one point separating Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen after the Emilia-Romagna GP, it feels like we have the first true title fight in Formula 1 since 2018. Both drivers had a pole position and race win each, and neither were able to convert their poles into victories.

Who would come out on top in Portugal was anybody’s guess, but today’s qualifying was a telling session for tomorrow’s race.

Q1

Clear skies and moderate temperatures adorned the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimao, typical of this time of the year in this part of Portugal. Ferrari have been steadily improving and continued their fine form in Q1. Carlos Sainz impressed everybody by setting the early pace in the session.

Portimao’s low-grip surface was playing havoc for even the fastest drivers. Sergio Perez lost the rear of the car through Turn 4 and ending up in the gravel. Thankfully for the Mexican, he recovered his Red Bull and he was through to second qualifying.

Sergio Perez was through to Q2 despite this off. Image: F1

The flurry of fast laps at the end of the session provided some real shocks.

Lando Norris was second in Q1 after the flag fell, but it was bittersweet for McLaren, as Daniel Ricciardo surprisingly ended up P16 and out. Lance Stroll also had a poor Saturday, the Aston Martin driver will start 17th. Nicholas Latifi was P18, and the Haas drivers occupied the back row, Schumacher leading Mazepin.

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Q2

Just like last year, the medium tyres were the preferred option for Q2, as drivers had to think about the race tomorrow. Hamilton headed a Mercedes 1-2 in the first half of second qualifying and was the first man into the 1-minute 17’s.

Despite struggling in Q1, Hamilton was on a charge in Q2. Image: F1

George Russell was doing an excellent job yet again in his Williams. Mr. Saturday was less than half a tenth off the top ten after the first runs had been completed. However, his impressive run would end here, although a P11 grid slot and free choice of tyres for tomorrow is very encouraging.

Antonio Giovinazzi (P12) beat his world champion teammate Kimi Raikkonen (P15), the Finn struggling with traffic. Fernando Alonso (P13) was again beaten by Esteban Ocon in the Alpine. Lastly, Yuki Tsunoda will start P14 in his AlphaTauri.

Q3

Mercedes had been fastest so far in qualifying, but Q3 would tell us who has the best one lap pace. Verstappen was the first of the front runners to set a flying lap, but a wide moment at Turn 4 saw his opening gambit deleted for track limits.

Hamilton, then Bottas set the fastest laps as it was again a Mercedes 1-2, the Finn seven thousandths of a second off his teammate. Perez did little to ease Red Bull’s worries, as he was P3 after the first round of runs, over half a second off the lead.

FLYING FINN: Bottas was fastest in the first round of laps, but could he hold on?

Contrary to the rest of the field, the Mercedes cars opted for the medium compounds, which in theory, is slower rubber. Verstappen was struggling on his softs, he got a lap time on the board, but it was only third, four tenths off Bottas.

It was down to the Mercedes drivers for pole, but the mediums weren’t the best tyre. Neither drivers improved, and it was Bottas who claimed pole position, his first of the season.

Mercedes locked out the front row, with Verstappen and Perez in P3 and 4 on the second row. Sainz rounded off an excellent day by qualifying P5 and ahead of Charles Leclerc (P8). Ocon was the star of the midfield, dragging his Alpine up to sixth. Norris will be disappointed in seventh, with Pierre Gasly in ninth and Sebastian Vettel tenth.

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Full Classification

Pos.No.DriverConstructorGap
177Valtteri BottasMercedes1:18.348
244Lewis HamiltonMercedes+0.007
333Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing+0.398
411Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing+0.542
555Carlos SainzFerrari+0.691
631Esteban OconAlpine+0.694
74Lando NorrisMcLaren+0.768
816Charles LeclercFerrari+0.958
910Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri+1.127
105Sebastian VettelAston Martin+1.311
1163George RussellWilliams1:19.109 (Q2)
1299Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo+0.107
1314Fernando AlonsoAlpine+0.347
1422Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri+0.354
157Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo+0.703
163Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1:19.839 (Q1)
1718Lance StrollAston Martin+0.074
186Nicholas LatifiWilliams+0.446
1947Mick SchumacherHaas+0.613
209Nikita MazepinHaas+1.073

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