2021 Portuguese GP Preview and Tips by James Punt
2021 Portuguese GP Preview
Round three of the Formula 1 season sees a return to the Algarve International Circuit in Portimão for the 2021 Portuguese GP. This is only the second time that the circuit has been used for F1. Last year the race was won by Lewis Hamilton with Valtteri Bottas second and Max Verstappen third. That was the order in which they had qualified. In fact, the top four in qualifying finished in the same order and only two drivers from outside the top 10 finished in the points. That was surprising given what unfolded in the opening laps.
Last year’s race was held in October and the weather was cloudy, cool with a few spots of rain which never effected the race. However, the newly resurfaced track was low on grip. Those starting on the medium tyres really struggled in the opening laps, so much so that Carlos Sainz who started eighth, took the lead of the race on lap two but by lap six, after the mediums warmed up, the top four restored normal service and they lapped the field.
It was very comfortable win for Hamilton, finishing twenty five seconds clear of Bottas in second place. He was eleven seconds ahead of Verstappen, who was thirty seconds clear of Leclerc in fourth, the last driver not to be lapped. After the opening half a dozen laps, it was not a great race.
Red Bull Not Bullish
Red Bull are playing down their chances this weekend due to the size of Mercedes advantage last year. Mercedes will also be happy to see a weather forecast which is for reasonably cool weather for the weekend. Friday and Saturday will see partly cloudy conditions and maximum temperatures of 20 degrees. While Sunday will be sunny and a little warmer at 23 degrees. Mercedes have said that their car is better in cooler conditions, but it should be noted that Bottas suffered in the cooler weather in Italy two weeks ago. He struggled to get his tyres warmed up and was uncompetitive as a result.
Moto GP raced here last weekend and the track did look more weathered. It had lost that new tarmac sheen that we saw here last year. So, taking last years form as a rock-solid guide may not be entirely wise, but it is hard to ignore the margin of their victory.
2021 Portuguese GP: Honours Even So Far
After the first two rounds of this season, we have seen one win apiece for Hamilton and Verstappen and one pole position apiece, although it must be said that but for a mistake by Verstappen in Q3 at Imola, it would have been 2-0 to Max.
The consensus is that the Red Bull/Honda combination is the fastest this year, but Hamilton is just about able to drag his Mercedes up to a competitive level. His cars sweet spot is smaller and Valtteri Bottas’ struggles are more reflective of where the car really is. Red Bull have not been able to take full advantage, narrowly losing the win in Bahrain but mainly due to the fact that Sergio Perez has only managed one 5th place finish from the first two races.
Perez qualified second at Imola but had a poor race and finished outside the points. He is not yet driving instinctively and, like all Verstappen’s previous teammates, is finding the Red Bull tricky to drive. Perez is trying to adapt to the car, rather than trying to get the car to suit him. That will take some time to do, but he feels he is making good progress.
Alpha Tauri Possess Pace
The relative struggles of Perez and Bottas does mean that we have the real chance of a driver from the midfield finishing on the podium. Lando Norris managed it at Imola and that means he sits third in the World Championship table. The ‘best of the rest’ battle looked to be wide open after testing but after two races, it is between McLaren and Ferrari. Alpha Tauri have the pace to aspire to a podium finish. However, they have not yet been able to convert that pace into good race results.
This weekends race will again be a Hamilton vs. Verstappen battle. Red Bull have the faster car and must be favourite to start from pole position. Mercedes concede that they are 0.25 – 0.30 off the pace over a flying lap, but their race pace is more competitive. The Mercedes is kinder to its tyres and they are running stronger at the end of stints, able to run longer stints and could be useful on a track that was pretty hard on the tyres last year. Red Bull still need to be operating at a very high level, or they will see wins slip away, as was the case in Bahrain.
Coming to a circuit which was very good for Mercedes last year, suggests that Red Bull have their work cut out to get the win, even if they do secure pole position. Hamilton may have won last years race by comfortable margin but he was just 0.25 faster than Verstappen in qualifying, which suggests that Max can justify his odds of 1.91 to qualify on pole position.
Tight At Top Of Market
As far as the race is concerned the bookmakers are struggling to split the two with Verstappen the marginal 2.38 favourite and Hamilton at 2.40. Perez and Bottas can both be backed at 12.00 with win only books but both are hard to fancy. Bottas may struggle with tyre temperatures once again, especially if the track remains low on grip and the temperatures on the cool side. It looks to be a difficult position for Bottas.
He struggles in cooler conditions, but the Mercedes seems to struggle more in hotter conditions. It will be hard for him to get the ‘right’ conditions for him and the car. Pirelli are bringing the C1 as the hard compound, the hardest available and that may not be a good race tyre for the Finn. Perez just hasn’t strung an entire weekend together yet and can’t be trusted to deliver just yet.
The ‘best of the rest’ battle has not been quite the bun fight many had expected. With just two races gone, we have the big two at the top. Then, the next best two, McLaren and Ferrari who have racked up 75 points between them, compared to just 16 for the other six teams.
McLaren Continue Progress
McLaren have made another step towards joining the elite teams thanks to Mercedes power and another good car. Lando Norris has also improved year on year, while Daniel Ricciardo is still playing himself into the team with finishes of 7th and 6th.
At Ferrari, Leclerc has qualified fourth in both races, but the Ferrari looks to have better one lap pace then race pace. Carlos Sainz, like Ricciardo is still bedding in at his new team but he too has scored 14 points. Leclerc was fourth here for Ferrari last year and with this year’s car looking a significant improvement, he must be on the shortlist for a potential podium.
Alpha Tauri have scored just eight points despite Gasly qualifying 5th at both races. The team took a gamble on starting Gasly on full wets at Imola and stuck with it even when it was clear that it was the wrong decision. It is OK to take an alternative strategy than most others, but you have to realise when its gone wrong. Tsunoda is showing his lack of experience. The pace is there but so are the mistakes. He was very well prepared for the last two tracks. However, now he comes to a track on which he has had some time in the simulator, but it is a completely new venue for him to get to grips with.
Gasly was fifth here last year, and, if the team can have a blemish free weekend, he should be capable of matching or improving on that performance.
2021 Portuguese GP: Unlucky Alfa Romeo
Alfa Romeo were very unlucky not to have a double points finish at Imola. Raikkonen’s post-race 30 second penalty for spinning under a safety car and then overtaking to regain the lost places, cost him ninth place. Giovinazzi was running nineth before his over hearting brakes required a pit stop. In Bahrain, Raikkonen was closing in on tenth place but missed out by two seconds and finished eleventh.
Kimi had a good race here last year, making up a lot of places on the opening lap having started on soft tyres. He hung on to tenth place for much of the race in his underpowered Alfa Romeo and eventually finished eleventh, his joint third best result of the season.
Aston Martin are crying foul. Claiming that the regulation changes have hurt them more than anyone else and the regulations should be changed. It is not a good look. Lawrence Stroll is obviously used to getting what he wants but he is in the Piranha Club now. The car has been good enough to score points in both races, but Sebastian Vettel has not.
This is not down to regulation changes, just a bad signing. The team have made considerable aerodynamic changes to their car, trying to craw back the lost downforce. Some progress has been made but the volume of their whinging and threats of legal action against the FIA tells its own story.
Stroll At Home In Aston Martin
Lance Stroll looks more comfortable in the Aston Martin and the more likely to score points. He had the race from hell here last year picking up in race penalties for colliding with Lando Norris and also for exceeding track limits.
Alpine got off the mark at Imola but needed the help of the stewards who demoted Raikkonen from 9th to 13th which moved Albon up to 9th and Alonso into the points in 10th. They have gotten one car into Q3 at both races but then are vulnerable to the cars starting in 11th and 12th who can choose a better tyre strategy. This is not a team at the same level as McLaren or Ferrari and has not got the pace of Alpha Tauri.
There was just one DNF here last year, Lance Stroll was retired when running last after his various penalties and crash with Norris. Collision damage was the official reason, saving power unit life was more likely. The track, being used for motorcycling racing features a lot of gravel traps. But, it also has a decent amount of tarmac outside the track limits. That made it quite forgiving on drivers mistakes.
So far in 2021 we have seen two DNF’s in Bahrain (a crash for Mazepin and a mechanical retirement for Alonso who had debris stuck in a brake duct) and three DNF’s at Imola, all crash related. The car’s reliability looks good in other words.
The fact that the weather conditions will be warmer this year and that the track surface will have matured, means we could see a different sort of race this year. However, it was a very easy win for Hamilton and part of the reason was his tyre management. He made a one stop strategy look easy. Once again, his ability to keep his tyres in better shape than the Red Bulls may swing the result his way. A Verstappen pole, Hamilton win would be my guess. It may be better to wait until after qualifying before considering a bet on Hamilton. We will have a better idea of the track conditions by then and his odds may drift.
2021 Portuguese GP Tips: 2 points Max Verstappen to qualify on pole position @ 1.91 with Betvictor, Skybet
Charles Leclerc had his joint third best result here last year and with Bottas and Perez not looking rock solid so far, he might be in the running for a podium finish.
2021 Portuguese GP Tips: 1 point Charles Leclerc to finish in the top 3 @ 5.50 with Hills, Betvictor
The Alpha Tauri is giving Gasly opportunities to score big points but it just hasn’t worked in the races so far. He just needs a clean race to realise the potential in the car and that potential should easily be top 6. He was fifth here last year and the car is better this season.
2021 Portuguese GP Tips: 2 points Pierre Gasly to finish in the top 6 @ 2.00 with Hills, Skybet
With reliability looking good and a driver friendly track the chances are we will see plenty of finishers.
2021 Portuguese GP Tips: 2 points over 16.5 classified finishers @ 1.91 with Skybet
Kimi Raikkonen is knocking on the door of a top 10 finish and while a case can be made for quite a few in the midfield, his odds look too big to me.