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2021 Portuguese Grand Prix Blog

What a difference two weeks can make. Imola was wet and slippery. Portimao hot, dry and dusty, and this presented a very different challenge for the teams.

It was not to everyone’s liking, Max Verstappen described the circuit as: “not very enjoyable to drive”, after complaining about a lack of grip throughout the weekend. This has been the Dutchman’s best start to an F1 season, with a win and two second places, but he will be concerned about the improved performance from Mercedes. However, was the Silver Arrows car significantly better, or did we just see a masterclass from Lewis Hamilton during the race which left Max in the shade?

The Grand Prix certainly did not start as planned for Lewis. At lights out, the cars set off in grid order: Bottas; Hamilton; Verstappen but the safety car soon appeared when Kimi Raikkonen collided with teammate Antonio Giovinazzi on Lap 2. It was then Lewis who was caught napping at the restart, with Verstappen sweeping past him around the outside of Turn 1. If anything, this lit a fire in Hamilton and he relentlessly pursued the Dutchman, who in turn was closing in on Bottas but unable to get past. It was Verstappen who made the next mistake, sliding around the exit of Turn 14, and in the process giving Hamilton half an opening, which he gleefully took. Max tried to defend but the Mercedes came alongside him on the inside, and passed leaving a cloud of dust in its wake.

Valterri Bottas was now in Lewis’ sights and he tailed his teammate for nine laps before sweeping past on the outside of Turn 1. This was a textbook move and proof again, as if any were needed, that Hamilton is the no.1 driver in the Mercedes garage. From that point on the race victory looked a formality for Hamilton, who said afterwards: “That race was satisfying, when you’re in third and have to overtake two amazing drivers – amazing! Having races like that is what I live for.”

Another British driver who had a good weekend was Lando Norris, steering his McLaren home in fifth place. That’s a top five finish in every race so far this year, which is exceptional. Commenting afterwards, Lando said: I’m really pleased for everyone in the team and with my performance. We scored some good points and P5 was the best we could achieve today, so I’m very happy.”

The pecking order for the mid-table teams looks as close as ever, with Alpine throwing their hat into the ring this weekend. It is fair to say the French outfit have had an inconspicuous start to the season, with both Fernando Alonso and Estaban Ocon slipping under the radar somewhat, but a double points finish (Ocon P7 and Alonso P8) was exactly what they needed here. Alonso acknowledged the improved performance, saying: “It was a very good weekend in general. The car has performed well, and we’ve made a big step forwards, fighting with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren in the race, which is different to where we were in Bahrain and Imola.”

Lastly, Mick Schumacher deserves a mention. Seventeenth place may not seem impressive, especially when one is comparing him against his father, but the Haas driver put in an excellent overtake on Nicholas Latifi and completed the race over 1 minute ahead of his teammate Nikita Mazepin. It is hard to fight your way up from the bottom, but the signs are there that he is going the right way.

We have a quick turnaround now, with the F1 roadshow heading to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend. Can Red Bull tip the balance back their way at this more familiar track, or will we see more improvement from Mercedes? Don’t miss it!