F1 returned to Portugal in 2020 after a long hiatus with the Algarve International Circuit of Portimao hosting the series for the first time. It’s a rollercoaster of a track with many elevation changes, sweeping turns and strong winds from the nearby coastline. While this layout does not offer much in terms of overtaking action, it’s quite a fun race to watch and it delivered on those expectations at the 2021 GP as well.

The aforementioned windy conditions can change the pace and vibe of the circuit within the span of a single session. A setup that worked well at the start of practice may no longer be suitable or manageable by the end of it as the wind speed and or direction changed. This also affected the final qualifying runs for various drivers. Red Bull’s pace was quite close to that of Mercedes this year, as expected, and Max Verstappen’s practice times were similar to those of Lewis Hamilton. However, it seemed that the Mercs just had that little extra pace over their rivals to stay ahead.

Throughout qualifying, Verstappen was being outpaced by both Mercedes drivers with Lewis being the only one to set a time in the 1min17s. However, in the final run, Valtteri Bottas managed to take Pole position from his teammate by the finest of margins: 7 milliseconds. Max’s best effort was four-tenths slower with his teammate Sergio Perez another tenth behind to qualify fourth fastest.

Carlos Sainz got his best qualifying result with Ferrari so far, securing the fifth spot on the starting grid while teammate Charles Leclerc was only 8th fastest. Splitting them were Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris starting P6 and P7 respectively. The final Q3 contenders were Pierre Gasly and Sebastian Vettel. It was the first time since in 15 races that the 4-time world champion had managed to make it to Q3. Daniel Ricciardo had a surprise early elimination in Q1 and started 16th on the grid.

Bottas, Hamilton and Verstappen had an equally good start to the race but Perez got a bit bogged down which allowed Sainz to pass him on Turn 2. Norris and Ocon were fighting for P6, swapping places on the opening lap. 

As the cars started Lap 2, we got our first and only retirement of the race: Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn had an incredible start at Portimao last year and fans were expecting to see more of the same. Instead, we got a rare clumsy mistake from the former world champion as he made contact with the rear-left of his teammate down the main straight. It seemed that the extra pace Kimi gained in Giovinazzi’s slipstream caught him sleeping and resulted in a broken front wing. Even worse, it wasn’t a clean snap and half the wing was stuck under the nose which didn’t allow Raikkonen to have any control of the car except for parking it at the end of the gravel pit. This brought out the Safety Car for the next few laps. 

Racing resumed at the start of Lap 7 and Bottas was able to get the jump on Hamilton. This also allowed Verstappen to get a good run down towards Turn 1 and pass his championship rival around the outside. Sainz seemed to have the worst restart, losing two spots in the first two corners. Perez was back into P4 but was then overtaken by Norris, the McLaren on Softs and the Red Bull on Mediums.

Max got caught by Lewis on Lap 11 as the Red Bull got a bit squirrely on the exit of Turn 14. This placed the Dutchman too far behind Bottas and closer to Hamilton who used the DRS advantage to send it down the inside of Turn 1. It wasn’t long before the two Mercedes had pulled a gap from Max, but the Brit was showing no sign of easing on his teammate. As the Mercs started Lap 20, Bottas went too deep down the inside line to try and defend but Hamilton used the DRS pace advantage and overtook him around the outside of Turn 1 and on the quicker racing line. Their battle had also allowed Max to close in but not within DRS range.

Red Bull decided to go for the undercut and Verstappen pitted on Lap 36 to switch from Mediums to Hards. Mercedes responded by pitting Bottas the very next lap, but the slightly slower pit stop meant that Verstappen was closer to him as he rejoined the track. As Valtteri struggled with his colder tyres and slid about on the exit of Turn 2, Max pounced on him right away. Using the DRS zone right after Turn 4, the Dutchman easily caught up to make the overtake down the inside of Turn 5 and used the extra grip to get clear of the No77 Mercedes.

Meanwhile, Perez had moved back to P4 by Lap 15 but was more than 10 seconds behind Verstappen. The rest of his afternoon was about tyre management as he went on to do the longest stint on his Mediums. After Max and Valtteri had pitted, Sergio moved up to P2 and was 14 seconds behind race-leader Hamilton who pitted the next lap. The Mexican ended up staying out on those tyres till Lap 52 of 66 and was leading the race for a fair few laps as well. He could have led for a few more had he not been slowed down while lapping backmarker Nikita Mazepin. Perez’s long stint even caught Hamilton off-guard when he caught up with it on his fresher tyres. The Brit radioed for blue flags before being informed that Perez had yet to pit. 

There were many questions as to why Red Bull left Perez out for so many extra laps. The strongest theory suggests that they were keeping their options open in the case of another SC period that might allow them to use race strategies against the Mercs using both drivers. At the end, when an SC seemed highly unlikely, Perez’s P4 result seemed quite certain. So, they decided to put him on Soft tyres for a short final stint which could also allow them to secure an extra point for the fastest lap. Unfortunately for Checo, this plan didn’t quite work out either.

Verstappen had settled into P2 shortly after his pit stop. Bottas had fallen behind somewhat and Hamilton had pulled away after his stop. The Red Bulls simply didn’t have the pace to match Mercedes that afternoon. At first, Valtteri was slowly catching up on Max. But a sensor issue had slowed his car down for a few laps which pretty much solidified his P3 result. After Perez did finally pit and his lap times slowed, the Finn had a big enough gap to pit for Softs himself to try and bag the extra point for the fastest lap. So, Mercedes stopped Bottas on Lap 64 of 66 to do just that. This stop meant Red Bull could also safely pit Verstappen the very next lap to attempt the same, even though it only gave the Dutchman a single chance: the final lap of the race.

Hamilton took the chequered flag at Portimao to win the Portuguese GP for the second year running. Verstappen crossed the line in second, nearly 30 seconds later with Bottas finishing P3. While Max had tried his best to secure the extra point for the fastest lap by a slim margin, he’d exceeded track limits and so that point was restored to Valtteri. Perez crossed finished P4, his best result yet for Red Bull. 

Three races in, this is the closest contest for the Driver’s Championship we’ve had in a long time. Hamilton and Max have traded places each time but now the Brit leads with 2 wins to 1, only 7 points between them.

After the initial mid-field action during the start and the restart, most of the overtaking took place down the main straight. But we still got to see some nice battles for the points. Norris was nowhere near the front runners at Portimao and managed to secure the best possible result of finishing P5. That’s makes it three races in a row where he’s earned McLaren a top 5 result including the podium at Imola. Ricciardo had a recovery drive on his hand after his awful qualifying result and was able to score some points as well with a P9 finish.

Leclerc crossed the line in P6 after a strong second stint on the Hard tyres. Unfortunately, Ferrari put Sainz on the Mediums for his second stint and this strategy did not pay off. Despite starting 5th on the grid, he finished the race out of the points in P11 with worn-out tyres allowing rivals to pass him with ease. 

It was a strong race for Alpine as both drivers finished in the points. Ocon had qualified well and maintained a good pace during his second stint to finish P7. But it was Fernando Alonso who caught everyone’s attention with a burst of pace after switching to the Hard tyres on Lap 41. He made several overtakes in the latter stages of the race to finish P8.

The final point was secured by Pierre Gasly which seems to be the best that the team could hope for as AlphaTauri simply did not seem to have the pace around Portimao. His rookie teammate, Yuki Tsunoda, was nowhere near the top 10 all weekend. While Williams had a strong showing in qualifying, the car continues to be difficult in race trim, especially while following others. George Russell had started 11th on the grid but had soon fallen down the order and finished his Portuguese GP in 16th. There was some joy for Mick Schumacher fans as he showed good pace in the closing laps and was able to put enough pressure on Nicholas Latifi to make a mistake, allowing him to pass the Williams and finish P17.

There’s no waiting this time around as we head into the next race the following Sunday. However, it will likely be a snoozefest, as most F1 races at Spain’s Catalunya circuit usually are. While Portimao wasn’t exactly the most action-packed race, the camera angles and the track layout kept viewers engaged. This year’s Spanish GP could be even duller as the track’s ONLY hard-braking corner has recently been smoothened out for MotoGP. Despite all that, this F1 fan will be watching every lap of the race and we’ll bring you the final report right here as usual. So, stay tuned for more F1 updates and subscribe for plenty more automotive content and follow us on Twitter & Instagram too (@autoloons).

Final race standings:

  1. L. Hamilton Mercedes — 1:34:31.421
  2. M. Verstappen Red Bull Racing Honda +29.148
  3. V. Bottas Mercedes +33.530
  4. S. Perez Red Bull Racing Honda +39.735
  5. L. Norris McLaren Mercedes +51.369
  6. C. Leclerc Ferrari +55.781
  7. E. Ocon Alpine Renault +63.749
  8. F. Alonso Alpine Renault +64.808
  9. D. Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes +75.369
  10. P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +76.463
  11. C. Sainz Ferrari +78.955
  12. A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 lap
  13. S. Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes +1 lap
  14. L. Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes +1 lap
  15. Y. Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda +1 lap
  16. G. Russell Williams Mercedes +1 lap
  17. M. Schumacher Haas Ferrari +2 laps
  18. N. Latifi Williams Mercedes +2 laps
  19. N. Mazepin Haas Ferrari +2 laps
  20. K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari DNF

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