Most of the time, Lewis Hamilton out-drives Valtteri Bottas. This time, he out-thought him. However the consequence was the identical.
Hamilton took his ninth pole place in 12 races this yr on the Portuguese Grand Prix. His Mercedes team-mate was left ruing his error in making the unsuitable determination on the technique name contained in the storage that nearly definitely was the distinction between pole and second.
It got here right down to tyres – and extra particularly the right way to use them.
The undulating Autodromo do Algarve, internet hosting its first ever F1 race, has revealed its secrets and techniques slowly over a disrupted weekend, a newly relaid floor and windy circumstances creating some odd phenomena for groups and drivers to get their heads round.
For one factor, the medium tyre was proving sooner than the gentle – a minimum of for some groups. Mercedes, not for the primary time this season, have chosen it for the race, and so has Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, in a powerful fourth on the grid for the second race in a row.
Not solely that, however Hamilton and Bottas determined to run the medium for his or her pole laps, too. In principle, the tyre ought to be greater than 0.5secs slower than the gentle, however on the Mercedes it simply wasn’t. They might not get the softs as much as temperature on the identical time throughout entrance and rear axles, and the medium was merely sooner.
The place the Mercedes drivers differed was in the right way to run the tyres. For his or her ultimate makes an attempt, they got the selection of 1 flying lap, or two, with a lap in between to cost the battery.
Once more, in principle, one lap ought to be faster – the tyres are model new. However Hamilton had a sense that they’d be faster on their second lap. It had regarded that approach at numerous instances over the weekend, and it was once more. The additional warmth in them greater than counter-balanced the lack of peak rubber when it got here to grip ranges.
It was an exhilarating finish to qualifying. Bottas had been quickest after their first runs within the ultimate session – for which each Mercedes drivers had the gentle tyre.
Switching to the mediums, Hamilton’s first lap took pole. Bottas took it again along with his sole flying lap, just for Hamilton to grab it again by simply over 0.1 seconds along with his second.
“Valtteri has been quickest all weekend,” Hamilton stated. “I did not know whether or not I may get a lap that may compete along with his however the final good determination I took on the finish was what created the chance.
“We each had the chance to decide on between the gentle and medium, which is counter-intuitive, and the concept of getting an additional stab at pole regarded good to me so I selected the additional lap.
“He nonetheless did an amazing job however I needed to dig very deep. Nailed the final sector however nonetheless very shut.
“It would not really feel just like the rubber goes down in any respect. The primary lap wasn’t that good for me however fortunately the temperatures had been excellent on the second lap and that is the place I used to be in a position to make the distinction.”
“Figuring out you’ve gotten the tempo,” Bottas stated, “it’s annoying however that is how it’s. However the race is tomorrow and I do know I’ve the pace.”
Effectively, perhaps. In reality, discounting the Italian and Russian Grands Prix, the place Hamilton was given penalties, Bottas has crushed Hamilton solely as soon as this yr when the Briton has began from pole.
Even on the three events on which Bottas has been forward on the grid, he has completed in entrance of Hamilton solely as soon as.
So, it doesn’t bode effectively for a Bottas victory at Portimao on Sunday.
There may be intrigue and uncertainty forward of the race, nonetheless.
Whereas the Mercedes have medium tyres for the beginning, Verstappen in third is on the softs. In principle, these ought to give him extra grip within the opening laps.
“It’ll be a really tough race with the tougher tyre that does not work for a number of laps,” Hamilton stated. “It will likely be fascinating at first. We’ll lose a little bit of efficiency to Max and the fellows behind on the softs. I do not know what to anticipate. Security automotive restarts might be actually tough with the tyres. It’ll be a troublesome race.”
There may be additionally a risk of rain to doubtlessly combine issues up. Not that moist climate usually causes Hamilton any considerations. Not a lot does as of late, it appears.
Win quantity 92 for Hamilton, and a brand new all-time document of victories, appears to be like the probably consequence.
Racing Level not making any pals
Lance Stroll missed the final race due to an sickness that turned out to be coronavirus – a prognosis that, on the face of it a minimum of, appears to have stunned no-one aside from these in his workforce.
The Canadian is again within the automotive this weekend in Portugal, however Racing Level’s dealing with of the scenario continues to be making waves up and down the pit lane.
Various rivals are irritated at what they see as Racing Level’s cavalier method to coronavirus.
Solely two drivers have examined constructive this yr – and they’re each from that workforce, Stroll’s case following Sergio Perez contracting it in the summertime, after a go to again to Mexico, a Covid hotspot, to see his mom.
On high of that, Racing Level’s public statements on Stroll’s scenario have been contradictory and opaque.
Rival groups, who’ve taken a extra clear method, haven’t been impressed, as a result of this season was solely in a position to begin because of F1’s reassurances to nationwide governments that it could take each attainable measure to minimise the danger with coronavirus.
They’re taking it critically, they observe privately, but it surely appears to be like like Racing Level are usually not.
Racing Level workforce boss Otmar Szafnauer has insisted his workforce could not be doing more, saying they check greater than any organisation on the earth.
However this doesn’t appear to tally with the truth that Stroll was displaying on the Nurburgring signs which can be on the record of attainable indicators for coronavirus, but they didn’t check him, insisting that his physician stated they weren’t coronavirus signs, and that they had been “assured” he didn’t have it. Just for him to check constructive as soon as he obtained dwelling.
It didn’t assist, both, that Szafnauer gave one model of Stroll’s signs on the final race, and one other this weekend.
Nor have folks been impressed by Racing Level not revealing Stroll’s constructive check till 9 days after he had it.
All of this seems to be a transparent breach of F1’s Covid code – and but the FIA has issued solely a reminder of their obligations, which is one other concern elevating eyebrows.
All this led to a withering response from McLaren Racing chief govt officer Zak Brown in Friday’s information convention.
“When in Australia, we had somebody that did not really feel effectively,” Brown stated. “(McLaren workforce principal) Andreas (Seidl) and I aren’t medical doctors however we took the very fast determination to isolate after which as soon as the check got here again constructive, isolate the workforce and finally we knew that may shut us down for the race.
“So, I do know the physician did not suppose a check was constructive. Perhaps in hindsight that ought to be totally different. I do not know who the physician was. Do not know if it was Dr Mallya, Dr Seuss… perhaps it was Dr Dre.”
What Brown and others wish to see from Racing Level is extra transparency, and an acceptance that they have this one unsuitable, and have to be seen to take the scenario extra critically. As but, that has not occurred.
Driver market up within the air
The Portuguese Grand Prix weekend began with the information that Haas are making an entire change of their driver line-up, dropping each Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen subsequent yr.
This has led to a typical F1 ‘foolish season’ weekend, by which all method of driver swaps have been mentioned.
Haas, sarcastically, appear comparatively settled – it appears, a minimum of at this stage, that they’re more likely to find yourself with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, each graduating from System 2.
There are questions marks over quite a lot of groups for 2021.
George Russell’s future at Williams has come beneath the highlight, regardless of the very fact he has a contract, as a result of Perez is sniffing round for a seat with loads of Mexican backing, following Racing Level’s determination to signal Sebastian Vettel.
Williams performing workforce principal Simon Roberts inadvertently added gas to the hearth, when he refused to commit the workforce to operating each Russell and Nicholas Latifi subsequent yr when requested within the official information convention.
Regardless of this, the phrase from inside Williams is that they aren’t pushing for a change, and haven’t approached Perez.
And on Saturday, Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff, who manages Russell as a Mercedes younger driver, stated the scenario was “not trying unhealthy” for the promising Briton, who once more excelled in qualifying on Saturday.
Perez is among the contenders for the second seat at Pink Bull, the place Alex Albon is beneath stress. The opposite candidate there’s Nico Hulkenberg, who has impressed on his three substitute appearances for Racing Level this season.
Group boss Christian Horner stated: “We wish Alex to say that seat and justify that there isn’t a want to have a look at another various than Alex.
“He is had a few tough weekends so he must bounce again right here and notably Imola with a robust weekend from begin to end. We’d like two vehicles nearer collectively with the intention to struggle the Mercedes.”
Elsewhere, Daniil Kvyat’s future at Alpha Tauri – and due to this fact in F1 – appears to be like shaky. Whereas the most recent data on Alfa Romeo is that Kimi Raikkonen will keep and that Ferrari are minded to provide Antonio Giovinazzi one other season to show his potential.