Lewis Hamilton continued his record breaking ways at F1’s debut at the Portimao track. This interesting and exciting race saw front runners leave a shuffling, close running pack behind. A one-stop race for most would see drivers fall down the standings and try to climb back through, where we were treated to some lovely on track battles and many overtakes into turn one.
What a start! The best opening couple of laps of the season saw action right the way down the grid and showed F1 at it’s finest. Drizzling rain and cold weather meant some drivers struggled to get heat into their tyres, especially those on the mediums like the Hamilton. From the line, both Mercedes initially got a good start and Hamilton lead from Bottas. Further back, Verstappen and Perez came together, resulting in Perez pitting early and dropping to the back of the field. There was racing throughout the pack with some tyres switched on and others struggling; cars running three abreast into turn one; others battling for fourteenth place as if it were the lead position. It was a testament to the quality of the drivers that there were no more incidents as we entered the first ever F1 race at Portimao.
Someone who absolutely had their tyres switched on was Carlos Sainz, who showed blistering pace and, from seventh on the grid, took the lead from Bottas on lap two. Hamilton was now third after struggling to switch those tyres on, Bottas and Sainz having passed him in the latter part of the opening lap. The only other competitor to match Carlos’ start to the season was Kimi Raikkonen, who made ten places in the first two laps—I’ve no idea how he did this! Incredible driving from the Finn. Thankfully, the opening laps showed Portimao to be a track at which we could see racing, overtaking, and have quality wheel to wheel action—and this was a main theme throughout the race.
As the race continued, those who had initially struggled with their tyres managed to switch them on and found the pace; consequently, we saw Sainz loose the lead to the faster Mercedes and then Verstappen, as well as Raikkonen, losing places to the faster cars around him.
Over the course of the race the front running cars eked out large gaps, whereas those further back remained in relatively close running. Up front, a pitstop would lose you a few positions, where in the pack it would lose you a significant number—this was another predominant theme of the race. This close running pack—together with quite a long pitlane at the track—would drop drivers down the positions. We would then be treated to battles on track as they tried to regain places. Tyre tactics came into play here, most opting for a single stop; some early on; others much later; and a few even trying the two-stop strategy. So, a lot of shuffling and swapping of positions.
Ocon played the tyre strategy well in one of his best outings of the year. The Renault driver did a long opening stint of 54 laps to climb up the field in order to try to escape that close group. Unfortunately, a slightly slow stop dropped him a place or two, but the Frenchman still came in eighth ahead of team mate Ricciardo in ninth.
Perez also made his tyres last, having pitted on the opening lap after the incident with Verstappen. From last position, the Racing Point driver regained places through some lovely overtakes, together with those ahead of him pitting and—presumably—some kind of magic, because within 35 laps he was back up in fifth position. He was able to do an incredibly competitive stint of over forty laps on his tyres before pitting again in yet another great race from the Mexican, who came in seventh—a position which didn’t reflect his outstanding performance today. His team mate Stroll, on the other hand, had a day to forget, receiving two 5 second penalties—for causing a collision with Norris and running over the track limits—to retire the car from last position later on in the race.
Other drivers within this constantly mixed up group were Sainz and Gasley, the latter having yet another great outing to come in fifth. As for Sainz, after his initial pace he continued to have a good race and pipped Perez to sixth in the closing lap. Unfortunately for teammate Norris, the race didn’t go quite as well; a bungled overtake on him by Stroll saw the Racing Point driver squeeze Norris as the two came together. A pit for a new front wing dropped Norris to the back of the pack—with only Stroll behind him—and the Brit was unable to get back into the points from there, finishing thirteenth.
The Mercedes—as ever—sailed off into the distance. Bottas led initially, but Hamilton, making his tyres last longer, had more grip and overtook his teammate on lap nineteen. From then, it was the Hamilton show again as he took an incredible and record breaking ninety second race win. It was a lonely race for the top four, with huge gaps between them, Bottas coming in twenty five seconds behind Hamilton, Verstappen a further nine seconds behind. Leclerc was another thirty seconds behind the Red Bull in another good drive where he found extra pace in the Ferrari that it really doesn’t have. Teammate Vettel managed to scrape a point in tenth, the German again just being unable to find the pace in a poor performing Ferrari that Leclerc seems to be able to find.
I can’t finish the report without a shout out to Raikkonen and Russell. Raikkonen—now the driver with the most F1 race starts ever—had an absolutely stonking start, followed by a feisty performance, always fighting for positions despite the lack of pace in his Alfa. One of the big moments of the race for me was a masterful defence against Sainz, which saw the two going side by side around the first six corners of the lap and Raikkonen getting the better of a much faster Mclaren. Russell, too, had a great race, running up in seventh at one point as those around him had all pitted. The Williams simply does not have the pace, but the young Brit managed to bring it home in fourteenth—much further up the field than the pace of that car.
So, we got our first taste of racing at Portimao and it did not disappoint. The track displayed its potential for hard and fair racing right from the get go and we were treated to wheel to wheel action throughout the race. Overtakes were aplenty, most executed into turn one, which lead to the possibility of a fight for position for the next couple of corners, as both Perez and Ocon brilliantly displayed, as well as Raikkonen and Sainz.
As the year unfolds, we are all in awe of what Hamilton and Mercedes are achieving, and ninety two victories is a phenomenal new world record. But also within the year, I am enjoying—amongst other things—the new tracks we are exploring as well as the close racing further down the field, and this race represented both of those elements perfectly. I hope we return to Portimao again!
Driver of the day: Raikkonen
Honourable mentions: Sainz, Perez, Leclerc, Ocon, Gasley, Russell, (lots of guys had a good day and I don’t do decisions well!)
Portuguese Grand Prix Race Results
- Hamitlon (Fastest Lap)
Next up: Imola baby! Old school, historic and FAST! Not to be missed.
Where to watch-
USA: Sunday 1st November Live on ESPN race start at 9:10am EST
UK: Sunday 1st November Live on Sky Sports F1 race start at 1:10pm GMT
Highlights on Sky One 4:30pm or Channel Four 6:30pm Sunday 1st November