As a rule, 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 fallacious choice on the technique name contained in the storage that just about actually was the distinction between pole and second.
It got here right down to tyres – and extra particularly tips on how 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 delicate – at the least 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 formidable 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 idea, the tyre ought to be greater than 0.5secs slower than the delicate, 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 tips on how to run the tyres. For his or her closing 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 idea, one lap ought to be faster – the tyres are model new. However Hamilton had a sense that they might be faster on their second lap. It had regarded that manner at varied occasions 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 exciting finish to qualifying. Bottas had been quickest after their first runs within the closing session – for which each Mercedes drivers had the delicate tyre.
Switching to the mediums, Hamilton’s first lap took pole. Bottas took it again together with his sole flying lap, just for Hamilton to grab it again by simply over 0.1 seconds together with his second.
“Valtteri has been quickest all weekend,” Hamilton mentioned. “I did not know whether or not I might get a lap that might compete together with his however the final good choice I took on the finish was what created the chance.
“We each had the chance to decide on between the delicate 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 awesome 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 good 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 mentioned, “it’s annoying however that is how it’s. However the race is tomorrow and I do know I’ve the velocity.”
Nicely, 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 nicely 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 idea, these ought to give him extra grip within the opening laps.
“It will be a really tough race with the more durable tyre that does not work for a number of laps,” Hamilton mentioned. “It will likely be fascinating originally. We’ll lose a little bit of efficiency to Max and the blokes behind on the softs. I do not know what to anticipate. Security automobile restarts shall be actually troublesome with the tyres. It will be a tricky race.”
There may be additionally a risk of rain to probably combine issues up. Not that moist climate usually causes Hamilton any issues. Not a lot does lately, it appears.
Win quantity 92 for Hamilton, and a brand new all-time report of victories, appears the most definitely end result.
Racing Level not making any mates
Lance Stroll missed the final race due to an sickness that turned out to be coronavirus – a analysis that, on the face of it at the least, appears to have stunned no-one aside from these in his group.
The Canadian is again within the automobile this weekend in Portugal, however Racing Level’s dealing with of the state of affairs continues to be making waves up and down the pit lane.
Plenty of rivals are irritated at what they see as Racing Level’s cavalier strategy to coronavirus.
Solely two drivers have examined constructive this yr – and they’re each from that group, 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 state of affairs have been contradictory and opaque.
Rival groups, who’ve taken a extra clear strategy, 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 chance with coronavirus.
They’re taking it severely, they observe privately, nevertheless it appears like Racing Level are usually not.
Racing Level group boss Otmar Szafnauer has insisted his group couldn’t be doing extra, saying they take a look at greater than any organisation on this planet.
However this doesn’t appear to tally with the truth that Stroll was displaying on the Nurburgring signs which can be on the checklist of attainable indicators for coronavirus, but they didn’t take a look at him, insisting that his physician mentioned 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 received 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 individuals been impressed by Racing Level not revealing Stroll’s constructive take a look at 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 duties, which is one other situation elevating eyebrows.
All this led to a withering response from McLaren Racing chief government officer Zak Brown in Friday’s information convention.
“When in Australia, we had somebody that did not really feel nicely,” Brown mentioned. “(McLaren group principal) Andreas (Seidl) and I aren’t docs however we took the very fast choice to isolate after which as soon as the take a look at got here again constructive, isolate the group and in the end we knew that might shut us down for the race.
“So, I do know the physician did not suppose a take a look at was constructive. Possibly in hindsight that ought to be completely 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 fallacious, and should be seen to take the state of affairs extra severely. 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 a whole 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, wherein all method of driver swaps have been mentioned.
Haas, sarcastically, appear comparatively settled – it appears, at the least at this stage, that they’re more likely to find yourself with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, each graduating from Method 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 choice to signal Sebastian Vettel.
Williams performing group principal Simon Roberts inadvertently added gas to the fireplace, when he refused to commit the group 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 don’t seem to be 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, mentioned the state of affairs was “not trying dangerous” for the promising Briton, who once more excelled in qualifying on Saturday.
Perez is likely one of the contenders for the second seat at Pink Bull, the place Alex Albon is beneath strain. The opposite candidate there may be Nico Hulkenberg, who has impressed on his three substitute appearances for Racing Level this season.
Staff boss Christian Horner mentioned: “We would like Alex to assert that seat and justify that there isn’t a want to have a look at another various than Alex.
“He is had a few troublesome weekends so he must bounce again right here and notably Imola with a powerful weekend from begin to end. We’d like two vehicles nearer collectively with a view to battle the Mercedes.”
Elsewhere, Daniil Kvyat’s future at Alpha Tauri – and due to this fact in F1 – appears shaky. Whereas the most recent data on Alfa Romeo is that Kimi Raikkonen will keep and that Ferrari are minded to offer Antonio Giovinazzi one other season to show his potential.