While Bahrain and Imola served us some hot explosive opening rounds, the third round at the Portimao circuit in Portugal was a lot calmer as normal services resumed in Formula One. Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton once again romped ahead in his Mercedes AMG Petronas to win the race comfortably ahead of the Red Bull Honda of Max Verstappen and teammate Valtteri Bottas. Here are the winners and losers of the 2021 Portugese Grand Prix:
Hamilton was forced to wait for his 100th pole position as he was bested on Saturday by Bottas by a mere seven-thousandths of a second. And while he did lose his second position to title rival Max Verstappen at the safety car restart, he immediately retook the spot four laps later, courtesy of Verstappen’s slight run-off at turn 13.
He didn’t stop there, going past teammate Bottas on lap 20/66 for the race lead. The seven-time champion then controlled the race from there to take his 97th win in F1, extending his lead to Verstappen by eight points, with more than 20 races to go.
It looks like Alpine’s 2021 season has finally kicked off with a strong showing in Portimao. Right from Friday practice, both Estaban Ocon and two-time champion Fernando Alonso looked quick enough to be at the top of the midfield. And Ocon confirmed that by qualifying sixth for the race. It was a strong drive to seventh place, while also keeping McLaren and Ferrari on their toes throughout the race.
On the other hand, his teammate, Alonso, had a tough qualifying to place 13th on the grid. But the two-time champion made up for it with a great race strategy by staying out longer in the first stint. After making his sole pitstop and strapping on a fresher set of tyres than the cars ahead, he scythed through the field, finishing eighth.
In fact, he was just a second behind teammate Ocon at the chequered flag. So another lap or two, and he might have occupied the seventh spot. Nonetheless, it is an excellent turn of form for Ocon, Alonso, and the Alpine squad, who now sit fifth in the constructors standings with this double-points finish.
Coming off the back of a well-deserved podium in Imola, McLaren’s Lando Norris was consistent here too, finishing fifth, right behind Mercedes and Red Bull Honda. Despite a messy qualifying that landed him seventh on the grid, he quickly made his way up to fifth and remained unchallenged throughout the race. His consistency keeps him third in the drivers’ standings, ahead of the likes of Bottas and Sergio Perez.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel may have turned the corner slightly by qualifying 10th for the Portuguese Grand Prix. But there’s still a long way to go, considering he dropped back to 13th at the end. Teammate Lance Stroll didn’t fare much better either. The Canadian qualified a lowly 17th, and then recovered to finish 14th. Overall, another difficult race for the Aston Martin squad.
It looked like Bottas was set for a strong comeback from his Imola disaster after qualifying for the pole position. But his pace just wasn’t enough compared to that of his teammate Hamilton. What made his afternoon even more disappointing was that he was displaced to third by Verstappen at the start of his final stint. Sure, he grabbed an extra point for the fastest lap of the race, but a third-place finish meant he was far from challenging Verstappen and championship leader Hamilton for the 2021 driver’s title.
It was a bit of a reversal of fortunes for Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz at the Portuguese Grand Prix. In the previous race at Imola, he qualified 11th and finished fifth. Here in Portimao, he qualified fifth, and was looking relatively comfortable for a sixth-place finish early on. But high tyre wear on his final stint meant that he dropped all the way down to 11th against drivers on the more durable hard compound tyre at the end.
Next up is the fourth round of the 2021 Formula 1 in Barcelona, Spain. Can Max Verstappen and Red Bull Honda bounce back and equalise the 2021 win tally with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes? All that will be revealed once the lights go out for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 9.
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