For the second time in this crazy 2020 season, F1 raced at a circuit that had never before hosted a Grand Prix. Portimao on the Algarve hosted the first Portuguese Grand Prix for the first time since 1996. That was hosted at Estoril and while Portimao hosted a pre-season test in 2009, only half of the field had driven around the circuit in any type car before. It was a fresh challenge and one that I think the drivers enjoyed as Lando Norris commented in practice, ‘I’m going side to side, left to right, like a rollercoaster’.
With its fluctuating elevations and frequent changes of direction made the Algarve circuit look spectacular. There was the loose drain panel issue which forced Qualifying to be delayed by half an hour and the relatively new track surface meant it was difficult for the drivers to find grip but once they had got through the graining phase, the Medium tyres were the tyres to be on in the race despite the initial promise of the Soft tyre in the opening laps as a slight shower of rain fell. It was a crazy start and race. With a powerful wind close to the sea, I think this is something the drivers would experience when F1 does eventually return to Zandvoort but it would be nice to see F1 return to the Algarve.
Even if the sport does not come back to Portimao, it will hold its place in F1 history as the place where Lewis Hamilton [crossing the line in the feature image above; image from formula1.com]. made history of his own. Amongst his post-race comments, he felt ‘very blessed. It’s going to take some time for it to sink in’. His whole family was there and it was such an emotional weekend as the reigning world champion wrote himself into the history books as he just keeps toppling records. Michael Schumacher’s 91 career wins was once thought untouchable but as the man himself said, records are there to be broken. 92 career wins for Hamilton, it is a remarkable achievement! Just where will he leave the landmark when it is time for him to end his career?
Hamilton hadn’t started his weekend well in Portugal and had to keep ‘digging and digging’ to find the lap time to beat his teammate to pole-position which he did by doing an extra lap at the end of Q3 which proved key. He had also done a lap extra in Q2 so he was starting the race on tyres that had done an extra lap, putting him at a slight disadvantage. Still, he had a decent initial launch off the grid but was unusually cautious as Bottas and Sainz got past him but he managed the tyres extremely well and the race came back to him, passing Bottas for the lead on lap 20 that he would not relinquish. Taking those Mediums to lap 40 was a solid effort and the winning margin was the largest of the season as he came home for the record-breaking win.
As for his teammate and only real title rival Valtteri Bottas it was another frustrating Grand Prix. The Finn had done everything right up until it mattered; topping all three practice sessions and it looked to be going his way until the final runs of Q3 and his decision to go for only the one final run. After a slower launch, he got past his teammate on the opening lap and while he then got past Sainz he dispatched of the McLaren on lap 6 and began to build up a lead. However, he struggled to maintain the pace and fell behind Hamilton lap 20 with no obvious mistake. When it came to pitting he suggested going for an alternative strategy (the soft tyre) on lap 41 but Mercedes did not allow it. It’s a decision he feels wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
I can see why Mercedes would not have considered it. As a fan watching at home it would have been interesting to see if Bottas could close the gap on the softer tyre. He was falling well behind Hamilton at this point and had nothing to lose by doing so. However, I can understand the reasoning behind them not doing so. They have their drivers out on the same tyres at the same time when they are racing each other. While it doesn’t add much excitement to the race I can see the fairness in that. As it happened and as others found out, the soft tyre was not the right tyre to be on so he was right to say, ‘I don’t think it would have made a difference to the result today’.
2020 Portuguese Grand Prix Qualifying
Q1: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:16.828……………15th George Russell 1:17.931; 16th Kimi Raikkonen ++0.270, 17th Antonio Giovinazzi +0.392, 18th Romain Grosjean +0.433, 19th Kevin Magnussen +0.577, 20th Nicholas Latin +0.846
Q2: 1st Valtteri Bottas 1:16.466………10th Daniel Ricciardo 1:17.481; 11th Esteban Ocon +0.133, 12th Lance Stroll +0.145, 13th Daniil Kvyat +0.247, 14th George Russell +0.307, 15th Sebastian Vettel +0.438
Q3: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:16.652, 2nd Valtteri Bottas +0.102, 3rd Max Verstappen +0.252, 4th Charles Leclerc +0.483, 5th Sergio Perez +0.571, 6th Alex Albon +0.785, 7th Carlos Sainz +0.868, 8th Lando Norris +0.873, 9th Pierre Gasly +1.151, 10th Daniel Ricciardo (no time set).
Max Verstappen put in another very strong performance in the Red Bull. He was even closer to the Mercedes pair in Q3 than he has been at any stage in 2020 but still had to settle for 3rd in Q3. Still, starting on the Softs on the clean side of the track it was hoped he could challenge from there. Instead, he found himself tapping Perez at turn 3 and falling behind both McLaren’s on the opening lap. He was fortunate not to sustain any damage and once past both Mclaren’s on lap 8 he soon started to struggle on the Softs. He felt more comfortable on the Mediums but by that time he was already so far back, he did not pose a real threat to Mercedes. 3rd was his 9th podium of 2020, 40th of his F1 career and ‘where we expected to be’.
Red Bull had quick pit stops (all sub 2 seconds). Wow! They also said that Alex Albon had ‘two or three weeks’ to secure his 2021 seat. They want him to succeed but Portimao turned into a disaster. The Thai driver could only qualify 6th; 4 tenths shy of Leclerc in the Ferrari. A disappointing start saw him fall to 12th as he struggled for grip on the opening laps. Albon was unable to get ahead of Ocon when Red Bull pitted him at the end of lap 18 in an attempt to get him in some clean air but once he got stuck behind Raikkonen they pitted him again on lap 45 for Softs which ‘looking back maybe that wasn’t the best thing to do’. He came home outside of the points and perhaps fatally for his 2021 hopes lapped by Verstappen. Imola is a huge weekend for Albon.
Charles Leclerc was one of the star performers in Portugal; drawing huge praise from Ross Brawn comparing him to Schumacher and Hamilton. I can see it. The Monegasque showed top 6 pace in a Ferrari that while improving, is not quite there yet and did a fantastic job qualifying 4th while impressively getting into Q3 on the Mediums. Post-race, Leclerc declared, ‘We had a strong race and we are seeing some progress’. He out-qualified the car at the Nurburgring but in Portugal, 4th is where he deserved to be. After losing a couple of places on the opening lap, he regained those positions and was able to build that much of a gap that by the time he pitted at the end of lap 34 he had built up such a gap that 4th was his. That is where the impressive Leclerc finished equalling his best result since Silverstone.
It was generally a better weekend for Ferrari as both drivers scored points. Sebastian Vettel still did not have the same pace as Leclerc and was hugely disappointing in Qualifying as he started 15th. The four-time world champion started on the Medium tyre and despite all the craziness of lap 1 maintained position. After an early battle with Grosjean as he got his Mediums up to temperature, he made his way up to 8th showing good pace in clean air before pitting at the end of lap 27. Going to the Hard tyre was the right choice and after another close battle with ex-teammate and close friend Raikkonen claimed 10th on lap 53 as he took the final point on offer. Vettel himself stressed ‘I can’t be satisfied with any race where I only manage to take a single point’ but it was his first point since Mugello.
Pierre Gasly was another star performer at Portimao as he has been all season. The Frenchman showed top 10 pace throughout and caught they eye going fourth quickest in FP3 but fell back slightly qualifying 9th. He had a stellar race from that top 10 berth. Gasly was able to work his tyres better than those around him as he was able to pass Ricciardo and both McLarens before pitting for Mediums on lap 28. Being undercut by Ricciardo and Prez did not deter the Frenchman as he came back passing Ricciardo on lap 45 and after some questionable defending from Perez, passed the Racing Point on the penultimate lap for 5th; which ‘almost tastes like a small victory’. Like his Monza win, he had Sainz behind for close company. What makes it all the more remarkable is Gasly missed a large chunk of FP2 when his engine caught fire.
It was a drive that has more than cemented his place in F1 for 2021 but Portimao was a bad day for Daniil Kvyat and could he be leaving the sport again? The Russian didn’t have the same pace as Gasly and failed to reach the top 10 in Qualifying as he complained of not having ‘confidence to push the car more’. With a free tyre choice, he could’ve had a good race but if anything he went backwards. He lost 6 places on the opening lap as he struggled with tyres and while he made some progress he was never in points contention. A 5s time penalty for exceeding track limits was the only memorable part of his race as a second pit stop meant he finished last of the classified finishers for the second successive race but this time there was no misfortune.
2020 Portuguese Grand Prix Race Result
1st Lewis Hamilton 1:29:56.828, 2nd Valtteri Bottas +25.592, 3rd Max Verstappen +34.508, 4th Charles Leclerc +65.312, 5th Pierre Gasly +1 Lap, 6th Carlos Sainz +1 Lap, 7th Sergio Perez +1 Lap, 8th Esteban Ocon +1 Lap, 9th Daniel Ricciardo +1 Lap, 10th Sebastian Vettel +1 Lap, 11th Kimi Raikkonen +1 Lap, 12th Alex Albon +1 Lap, 13th Lando Norris +1 Lap, 14th George Russell +1 Lap, 15th Antonio Giovinazzi +1 Lap, 16th Kevin Magnussen +1 Lap, 17th Romain Grosjean +1 Lap, 18th Nicholas Latifi +2 Laps, 19th Daniil Kvyat +2 Laps, Lance Stroll DNF
Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton
McLaren rightly caught the eye at the start of the race with Carlos Sainz leading the opening stages. The Spaniard only just qualified ahead of his teammate for 7th but within the opening lap and a half, he had taken the race lead. It was unexpected but only lasted for four laps and while he would always struggle against the Mercedes pair and Verstappen he found himself struggling with the graining of his Softs as the likes of Leclerc and Gasly came past. The latter getting past on lap 20 almost dictated his result as he could not get in front of the Alpha Tauri again. He was undercut by Ricciardo and Perez but he will at the same time be happy to have got past them with the move on the latter coming on the final lap as Sainz collected 8 valuable points for McLaren in ‘a good P6’.
The McLaren pair were closely matched around Portimao. Only 0.005s separated them in Q3 with Lando Norris just ultimately missing out for the 6th time in 7 races. Like his teammate, the Brit had an electric start and climbed from the to 4th on the opening lap but like Sainz, he too started to fall back as tyres began to be an issue. He was defending 7th on lap 17 when he was involved in that collision with Stroll at turn 1. Norris was more diplomatic post-race, ‘I’m not sure what he was thinking’. While understandably, he had some choice words for the Canadian but showed the maturity to apologise for them. The contact ruined his race, he was forced to pit that lap due to the wing damage and a second stop due to a slow puncture meant he finished nowhere near the points. An unlucky result for Norris.
Were the stewards right to penalise Lance Stroll? I think they were. He already had previous at turn 1 having collided with Verstappen in FP2 so while Racing Point felt it was a racing incident he probably should’ve known better. Even seeing his thoughts on it he’s in the wrong. ‘It was an awkward coming together…I was waiting to see if he would go left or right, but he stayed towards the middle of the track…That meant I had a split-second to decide what to do and I chose the outside and went over the kerb a little. When I turned in, I felt I was ahead, but there wasn’t space for two cars’. Norris had every right to put his car there so to try and go round the outside as he did was reckless and stupid. Although frustrating, he’d have been better served waiting for another opportunity.
It had been a disappointing weekend for Stroll in Portugal before then. A crash in FP2 earning the wrath of Verstappen and then he failed to make it into Q3 qualifying 12th while his teammate qualified 5th. The team put it down to him missing track time having not completed a racing lap in Russia or Germany but the incident on lap 17; the resulting five-second time penalty and additional 5s time penalty for exceeding track limits meant he was certainly in the steward’s naughty book at Portimao. He was well out of contention when Racing Point decided to retire the car bringing his sorry race to a slightly earlier end.
Portimao was certainly a rollercoaster for Racing Point and Sergio Perez too. The Mexican had an impressive showing in Qualifying 5th and an equally strong start put him alongside Verstappen into turn 3. Unfortunately, he was tagged by the Red Bull which dropped him to the back of the field and an early pit stop. His progress through the field was impressive on the Mediums but after pitting for the Softs on lap 45 he struggled with the graining. Despite his best efforts to defend (questionably too as he was reprimanded by the stewards) but he could not keep Gasly and Sainz behind in the final two laps. While he couldn’t hold on to 5th, considering where he was at the end of the opening lap he would’ve taken 7th as he noted, ‘it’s some important points and we recovered well from being in last place after the first lap’.
Renault have been the form midfield team recently, especially in the hands of Daniel Ricciardo. However, Renault struggled in Portimao and while Ricciardo got the upper hand it was a comedown after their Nurburgring podium. The Australian reached Q3 but was unable to partake after spinning into the wall at the end of Q2. The honey-badger had a strong start rising to 7th but didn’t have the pace to keep the likes of Leclerc, Gasly and Stroll behind before pitting relatively early on lap 14. It appears Renault went for the same trick they went for at the Nurburgring in going for a long second stint but didn’t have the pace to challenge anyone in front as he ‘never really had the tyres in the right window’ and found himself overcut by his teammate. Ricciardo finished 9th in an off weekend so that in itself is a decent result.
Esteban Ocon had a stronger showing in Portugal than he’s had in recent races for only the second time in 2020 finished ahead of his teammate in a race they both finished. Like Ricciardo, he struggled with his Renault and narrowly missed out on Q3 qualifying 11th. This meant he had a free tyre choice to start the race on and after a challenging opening couple of laps, he was able to use the Mediums well taking them all the way to lap 53 impressively claiming ‘my pace was strong even towards the end of the stint’. That put him into contention and coming out ahead of his teammate it was thought he could challenge for 6th but the graining and lack of relative pace meant that wasn’t possible. Still, he finished 8th, in the points and ahead of his teammate so that is a step in the right direction.
Portimao saw a few spectacular opening laps and none as spectacular as that from Kimi Raikkonen. ‘Honestly, I thought at one point what are the others doing?‘. That was Raikkonen’s thoughts as the 41-year-old carved through the field from 16th to 6th on the opening lap as if he was playing a video game. Well, he does consider F1 a ‘hobby’ these days. It makes amends for a slightly disappointing Qualifying where they will have felt Q2 was possible but after that incredible opening lap Raikkonen soon began to lose places to some of the quicker cars and he pitted early; lap 11. On the Mediums, the Iceman had decent pace and was in points contention until the latter stages but lost 10th to Vettel on lap 53. Despite not scoring points, it was a strong performance fro F1’s elder statesman.
Antonio Giovianzzi was nowhere near Raikkonen’s level at Portimao. The Italian trailed his teammate in all three practice sessions and was ultimately out-qualified by the Finn. His race performance wasn’t much better although his performance does come with the mitigating factor of ‘not having a working radio after lap one’ meaning it was a lonely race. He won’t have had access to information on his rivals pitting, strategy and performance-related issues. The Italian was very briefly in the top 10, lost out to Russell and seemed to be more likely to be passed by Grosjean as he finished a distant 15th.
2020 Portuguese Grand Prix Points
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 26, Valtteri Bottas 18, Max Verstappen 15, Charles Leclerc 12, Pierre Gasly 10, Carlos Sainz 8, Sergio Perez 6, Esteban Ocon 4, Daniel Ricciardo 2, Sebastian Vettel 1
Constructors: Mercedes 44, Red Bull 15, Ferrari 13, Alpha Tauri 10, McLaren 8, Racing Point 6, Renault 6
For George Russell, it was so close but yet so far in terms of the British driver scoring his first F1 points. Russell was by far the quicker of the Williams cars throughout and as per his nickname ‘Mr Saturday’ he excelled in Qualifying, getting into Q2 and beating Vettel to qualify 14th. The challenge was to recreate it on race day and did fairly well. He gained a position on the opening lap and was running in the points; 7th when he pitted on lap 36 for the Hards. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough to get back into the top 10. It wasn’t points as Russell felt unfortunate with little retirements (a pity that is what Williams need to score points these days) but he stressed that ‘there are plenty of posiitves to take away from today’. Points will come for Russell who despite rumours deserves his spot in F1.
Just why the rumours of Russell being at risk of losing his seat to Sergio Perez is beyond me as it would not a performance decision. The speculation isn’t on Nicholas Latifi due to the substantial financial backing he brings to the team through Sofina but on performance merits, it should be. Latifi was well adrift of Russell at Portimao and was almost a full second adrift of his teammate in Qualifying as he struggled. Qualifying plum last; 20th he then had a ‘tricky race’ where he was nowhere near Russell finishing around 30s behind and one of only two drivers finishing two laps adrift; only ahead of Kvyat.
One team announcing an overhaul of their 2020 line up was Haas with both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen not being retained for 2021. Quite feasibly, both drivers are now in the final races of their f1 careers although I wasn’t surprised about Grosjean as I thought he was fortunate to stay for 2020, Magnussen was a surprise. Grosjean won the qualifying battle and was ahead of Magnussen for much of the race as he qualified a lowly 18th and finished 16th before a five-second time penalty for exceeding track limits was applied by the stewards. 16th then went to Magnussen who wasn’t close enough to Grosjean in Qualifying or the race despite a clean start and more positive practice pace. Magnussen said ‘We were going for luck’ and that just says it all for where Haas are at present.
2020 Portuguese Grand PrixRatings
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 9.5, Valtteri Bottas 7.5, Max Verstappen 8.5, Charles Leclerc 9.5, Pierre Gasly 9.5, Carlos Sainz 8, Sergio Perez 9, Esteban Ocon 7.5, Daniel Ricciardo 7, Sebastian Vettel 6, Kimi Raikkonen 8.5, Alex Albon 4.5, Lando Norris 6.5, George Russell 8, Antonio Giovinazzi 5.5, Kevin Magnussen 6, Romain Grosjean 5.5, Nicholas Latifi 5, Daniil Kvyat 4.5, Lance Stroll 4
Constructors: Mercedes 9, Red Bull 7.5, Ferrari 7.5, Alpha Tauri 7, McLaren 7.5, Racing Point 7, Renault 7, Alfa Romeo 7, Williams 6.5, Haas 6.
What happens at Haas now? It seems they want to go for a fresh approach and that may well mean younger faces. I suspected it would be best to have a youngster alongside an experienced head such as Magnussen or even a Perez but it looks like it could be a Ferrari junior and F2 driver Nikita Mazepin has come up as a surprise contender. Most rumours this year seem to have come true so I have a feeling that will happen as much as I hate someone effectively buying their way into F1 and that was before realising some of his past indiscretions in junior Formula. I especially hope it doesn’t happen but if it does it shouldn’t come at the expense of Callum Illot or Mick Schumacher as seeing how the F2 Championship has developed they should be given their F1 shot either at Haas or Alfa Romeo. The question there as well will be will Raikkonen stay on for another year?
Then there’s Red Bull. They’ve announced Gasly is remaining at Alpha Tauri but what happens with the other seat there and at Red Bull. I don’t think it looks good for Albon and if they go outside the Red bull stable for the first time since 2006 then it’s between Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Both are experienced drivers and could help push the car alongside Verstappen. If that happens will Albon be demoted to Alpha Tauri or will the seat go to Japanese F2 driver Tsunoda? If I were to call it, I think Albon could be out of F1. He only got his shot in F1 at the last minute alongside Kvyat as they didn’t have a promising driver left in their stable. Also, if they want to use ‘Honda’ engines beyond 2021 will they need to sign Tsunoda?
The Championships. Well, it’s inevitable Lewis Hamilton will also equal Michael Schumacher’s 7 world titles and has been for a while. He now enjoys a 77 point lead over Valtteri Bottas with five races remaining. If Hamilton were to win the next race and Bottas failed to finish then that would be secured. Max Verstappen remains 3rd with more than double the points of fourth-placed man Daniel Ricciardo (80pts). The battle for 4th is fairly close with Charles Leclerc after his 4th place finish now 5th (75pts) climbing above Sergio Perez (74pts). There is also an interesting battle for 7th developing with Lando Norris (65pts) Alex Albon (64pts) failed to score at Portimao after Pierre Gasly’s impressive performance (63pts). By finishing 6th Carlos Sainz (59pts) climbs into the top 10 ahead of Lance Stroll (57pts).
In the Constructors, Mercedes didn’t wrap it up in Portimao but with 209 point advantage, they need to outscore Red Bull to secure an unprecedented 7th successive Constructors Crown. It’s been that dominant for them that they would still have the lead in the Constructors with only Hamilton’s points! The battle for 3rd is still intense with Racing Point, McLaren and Renault separated by only 6 points. Ferrari remain 6th on 93 points and Alpha Tauri 7th on 77 points while the bottom three remains unchanged.
Next up, is the return to a circuit with a rich F1 history that has not featured since 2006. It is a circuit I am looking forward to having never watched a race at this circuit; my interest in F1 only began a few months after they last raced there. The Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari has undergone redevelopment since it last hosted F1 but it will be great to see the cars racing there in an albeit shorter weekend format with only one practice session before Qualifying and the race. It is Imola. But not for the San Marino Grand Prix as it hosted from 1981 to 2006 but for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix