2021 Portuguese Grand Prix – A Familiar Situation

We asked, F1 listened.

After the glorious race put on for us during the absurd season that was 2020, F1 returned to Portimão for the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix. The first two races of the season have been incredible, keeping us guessing on every lap. Now we arrive at the third round, and was it as good as the others? Was the title battle getting more intense?

Let’s dive right into it.

Title Battles

All eyes were on Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen this race.

By a single point, Lewis was leading the championship, after his valiant effort to finish in Imola. But Max wants his spot, he wants to lead the championship for the first time in his Formula One career. So it all came down to Sunday, whichever driver beats the other is going to have the lead. But I don’t think you or I expected the driver who took pole position.

Valtteri Bottas.

The first two races have been terrible for the Flying Finn, with a pitstop issue in Bahrain, and his crash with George Russell in Imola. This weekend though, he was ready to return to his true form. And in an incredible lap that beat Max and Lewis to pole, Valtteri was ready to take the third win in the 2021 season.

The lights went out and off they drove. Valtteri, Lewis, and Max all got great starts off the line, and held their positions well. Sergio Perez, who started in fourth, didn’t have the best of launches. He was already smoked by Carlos Sainz on the main straight, and was sensing the pressure of Lando Norris in Turn 4. Checo had some catching up to do. But not to worry. He wrote the book on catch-up drives.

Valtteri had built up a comfortable lead on Lap 1, but a safety car after an incident with the two Alfa Romeos instantly reduced it to nothing. The debris was cleaned up, and Valtteri had to nail the restart to keep his position from his teammate and the hungry Red Bull.

And he did exactly that.

Man really caught Lewis sleeping on that restart, which set Max up perfectly to get past him. I really think we should go into more detail about just how Valtteri pulled that off.

On a safety car restart, the lead car has to back the pack up so that they don’t catch the safety car while it’s still on the track, which would be a disaster. Now once the pack is caught up, the leader can decide when he wants to go, and he has up until the start/finish line to do so. On a long straight, you don’t really want to go too early, because then the cars behind might use your slipstream and get past you. So the driver will typically wait until they absolutely have to go before they do. Lewis expected Valtteri to do this, and I’m guessing wasn’t paying full attention. Because Valtteri didn’t do what we expected.

Knowing Lewis will expect him to wait until the start/finish line, he launched early, catching Lewis off guard and making him lose a position to Max. I was so proud watching this, because that’s exactly what Valtteri needs to do if he wants a shot at the title. You can’t just rely on pure racing to beat Lewis, he’s a master at that. You gotta take the unconventional approach, using whatever opportunities you can to outsmart him. And it worked. Now his focus was to keep Max away, and control the race from there on out.

In the meantime, Lewis found the hidden grip on the circuit and started getting closer to Max. On about Lap 11, with DRS open, Lewis blew past the Red Bull and went straight into second place. Max tried to fight it back by going for a move around the outside into Turn 3, but Lewis, remembering the spinal damage Max gave him at Imola (which if you haven’t seen, check out this post here), slammed the door on the Dutchman, forcing him to back out of it.

And no one complained.

Like I said after Emilia Romagna, fighting for positions and fighting for titles are two very different games. In one, you show respect, and leave space when necessary. In the other, you pretend the car on the outside does not exist. And fair play to Lewis and Max for not making contact, they’re showing us what racing is about.

The defending champ’s next and final target was his teammate Valtteri, who was having a great race up until Lewis got within 1 second of him. Valtteri covered off the inside, knowing the power of DRS and Portimão. However, he was at such an acute angle going into Turn 1, he essentially cursed his entry speed and had to lift off the throttle just to make the corner. Lewis on the other hand was already in the lead. Valtteri was later passed by Max after a slow pit stop, and couldn’t fight back because of a technical issue.

I know I was brutally honest about Valtteri in the last post, but I just want to clear things up about him.

Our Finnish friend is in a really funny position. The guy is incredible at qualifying, and make no mistake, has insane pace during the race. He was 20 seconds ahead of Checo at one point. The thing that makes him look bad though, is that his competition consists of two of the greatest drivers we’ve ever seen, who find grip and time where it literally should not exist. This puts in a situation where he’s far better than average, and deserves his Mercedes seat, but simply cannot match the pace of his rivals. So is he fast? Absolutely. Can he win the title this year? That’s another discussion, but he’s gonna have to really push his limits to do that.

After Lewis snagged the lead, he kinda ran away with it. He took his 97th win, Max got second, and Valtteri finished in third.

2020 memories, huh?

This was definitely the Silver Arrows’ weekend, much like last year, but like Martin Brundle said, they’ve got an improved Red Bull to keep them on their toes. Lewis, Max, Mercedes, Red Bull, for the championship, it could go either way. We still have a whole 20 races to go, and I know you and I can’t wait to see who comes out on top.

That Weird Safety Car

In 2020, Kimi Raikkonen made up 10 places on Lap 1.

In 2021, Kimi Raikkonen’s race ended on Lap 1.

I don’t know if he wasn’t paying attention or just didn’t see, but on the main straight, Kimi decided his front wing and his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi’s left rear tire make a good couple. The damage left so much debris on the track, the FIA had to bring out the whole safety car to clean it up.

He was the only retirement that race.

I know he’s the most experienced driver on the grid, but you gotta agree with me here, we don’t see this very often from Kimi. So although it was definitely his fault, I should cut him some slack. Because 10 positions gained on the first lap of a race is no easy feat.

Tractor Battle

We haven’t seen much of Mick Schumacher this season, but we finally got our chance when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams became undrivable during the race. The two battled it out for a few laps, and Mick eventually forced Nicholas into a mistake which gave him P17.

I know Mick enjoyed that.

He knows his Haas is not going to be competitive this season, so when he gets an opportunity to actually race another car, he’ll do everything he can and give it 100%. And him and his engineer were very happy about that. For Haas, it doesn’t matter if they’re fighting at the back of the pack. If they did their best out on track, it’s a victory for them. A well deserved one too.

Nicholas on the other hand, definitely lost out.

In a race that felt very much like 2019, as George Russell pointed out, they simply lost their aerodynamic performance when other factors such as wind or dirty air came into play. They for sure have some work to do back at the factory.

“What were you thinking?”

If you watched the whole race, you already know who this award is going to.

Nikita Mazepin forgot he was driving the literal worst car on the grid, and didn’t bother to yield to blue flags as Checo approached him in Turn 3. He apologized to Checo after the race, but for someone with his experience when it comes to blue flags, he should do better than that. He was awarded a 5 second time penalty for his actions, but if we’re being honest, his penalty could literally be a day and it would make no difference.

Closing

Yeah, it felt like 2020, but this was more of a race for the teams and drivers than it was for us. Mercedes absolutely stepped up their game, with Red Bull challenging them near the front. Meanwhile, Haas, (well Mick at least) was closer to the pack, and Williams really struggled with their race pace. Overall, it might not have been as good as the other races this season, but I enjoyed, and it means big things for teams going forward.

What did you think about the race? Is Mercedes back on top? Was Kimi blind? And is the Williams going to figure out the secret to a faster race pace? I know I’ve said it before, but send me a message or shoot me an email here, I look forward to hearing from you!

I’ve been Miles Stewart, and I’ll see you in the next one, take care!

Published by Miles Stewart

I enjoy Formula One to the point where I will give you my brutally honest opinion, insight, and analysis of everything going on in the sport.

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