Revelling in less blustery conditions than faced during qualifying, Lewis Hamilton passed both championship rival Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to win the Portuguese Grand Prix.
The 2021 Formula 1 Heineken Grande Prémio De Portugal Grand Prix again visited the slippery Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, just outside of Portimao.
After nearly a quarter of a century without a grand prix in Portugal, there have now been two in a little over six months. This time, however, F1 teams fought for grip as strong winds buffeted the undulating circuit.
Seven-time F1 World Champion Hamilton dropped to third in the opening stages but made two unexpected moves within nine scintillating laps to claim his second win of the season.
Max Verstappen had to be satisfied with a disappointing second, while Bottas, who started from pole, finished an equally deflating third. Sergio Pérez took fourth for Red Bull, with Lando Norris fifth for McLaren.
Bottas left Portimao stinging from another miserable race afternoon. He’s already 37 points adrift of Hamilton after just three rounds.
Lewis Hamilton lost pole position to Valtteri Bottas by just seven thousandths as strong blustery winds joined with the slippery Portimao surface to make the world’s fastest drivers tiptoe on the undulating circuit.
By the second runs, the winds had picked up, and the track conditions had worsened. Hardly any driver improved, with Hamilton and Bottas not getting close to their first-run times. Verstappen couldn’t get anywhere near either Mercedes. The Dutchman’s mistake on his first run cost him – even with it, he would have been quickest.
Once again, track limits were Verstappen’s undoing.
As standout performers, Bottas found the right balance when he needed it, beating Hamilton. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz out qualified Charles Leclerc for the first time this season. Esteban Ocon accomplished the same to Fernando Alonso for the second time in a row.
Sebastian Vettel took his Aston Martin into Q3 for the first time in what seems years and miles ahead of Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin. Then there was George Russell, only 0.06s away from dragging his Williams into Q3. He started 11th on the grid.
Both Mercedes made great starts, with Bottas leading Hamilton into Turn 1. Verstappen was just behind in third, but
Pérez had slipped down to fourth due to wheel spin, once again struggling with grip.
While most of the field slithered on cold tyres, Bottas immediately gained nearly a second on Hamilton. Ocon held on to sixth but lost the position to Norris’ superb outside pass at Turn 12.
As the cars entered the pit straight at the end of the first lap, Kimi Raikkonen ran into the back of Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi. The safety car was deployed.
Six laps later, with the debris cleared, Verstappen caught Hamilton napping and steamed round the outside of the world champion at Turn 1.
In the lead, Bottas was unable to put distance on either Verstappen or Hamilton, and the trio spent the first ten laps separated by little more than one second.
On Lap 11, Hamilton landed his first blow by moving back past Verstappen. He drew alongside the Dutchman at 200mph before sliding up the inside of the Red Bull at Turn 1.
Verstappen looked to retake Hamilton through Turn 4, but the world champion’s Mercedes covered the apex, forcing the Dutchman to back off.
Immediately, Hamilton was all over Bottas. Before the Mercedes brain trust could issue revised race orders, Hamilton attacked, moving into the lead will a dazzling pass on Lap 20 of 66.
Bottas had defended the inside line heading into the first corner as Hamilton followed in the slipstream of his Mercedes teammate. Suddenly, the Brit pitched his car to the left in the braking zone, passing Bottas around the outside.
Hamilton forcefully pulled two seconds clear of Bottas within just four laps, and from there, he never looked back.
Now stuck behind Bottas, the frustrated Verstappen couldn’t make any impression on his title rival, and he was the first of the leaders to dive for fresh rubber on Lap 35.
Bottas followed a lap later and returned with a generous advantage over Verstappen. However, the Finn couldn’t get his tyres up to race speed, and within five corners, Verstappen sliced by to reclaim second place.
Sergio Pérez, out of sync with the leaders due to his heroically extended opening stint, led the race for a period, but Hamilton easily sailed past with 15 laps remaining.
Verstappen put on a fresh set of tyres in the closing stages and seemed to claim a bonus point with the fastest lap of the race, but his time was deleted by race stewards once again for exceeding track limits.
Hamilton will arrive at next week’s Spanish Grand Prix with an eight-point lead over the Dutchman in his quest for a record- breaking eighth world title.
“That was such a tough race, physically and mentally and just keeping it together,” said Hamilton. “It was windy, so it was easy to put a foot wrong.
“I lost out at the restart, which was not good, admitted the Brit. I was not happy, and I had to position myself the best I could. I then had to make a move on Valtteri before the tyres were destroyed, and I just made it stick at Turn 1.”
Charles Leclerc finished sixth for Ferrari, one position ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon. Double world champion Fernando Alonso finished eighth following a late pass on Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo finished ninth, with Pierre Gasly taking the final point in tenth.
Verstappen admitted: “At the end, we just lacked a bit of pace, and Lewis got by.
“Once we settled in second you could see we were lacking in pace compared to them. We were not on top of it here, but we will see what we can do in Barcelona.”
Like many before him, Max Verstappen is starting to comprehend how difficult it will be to beat an energized Lewis Hamilton, especially now that the Brit is approaching victory 100.