Hamilton victorious in Portugal as Bottas cracks

A well managed race from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton saw him take his second win of the 2021 season at the Portuguese Grand Prix, the Briton finishing ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, as Hamilton’s polesitting team mate Valtteri Bottas came home third.

With Hamilton starting second on the grid, an early Safety Car after Kimi Raikkonen had crashed into his Alfa Romeo team mate Antonio Giovinazzi saw the seven-time champion drop to third behind Verstappen at the Lap 7 Safety Car restart.

But Hamilton then fought back brilliantly, passing Verstappen back for P2 four laps later before claiming the lead with an incisive pass on Bottas into Turn 1 on Lap 20 of 66 – eventually coming home for his 97th F1 victory, and extending his lead at the head of the drivers’ championship.

Like Hamilton, Verstappen maintained his record of finishing all three races of 2021 so far in either P1 or P2 – but had to be satisfied with the latter result, the Dutchman able to pull away from Bottas in the latter stages of the race after the Finn suffered a sensor issue on his power unit, but having been unable to do much about Hamilton at the front.

Meanwhile, after late stops for both Bottas and Verstappen to try and claim the fastest lap bonus point, it was ultimately Bottas who got the job done, after Verstappen had a faster lap deleted for a track limits infringement.

Sergio Perez still has yet to finish on the podium as a Red Bull driver, but at least claimed his best result of the year with P4, ahead of Lando Norris, the McLaren driver having now finished in the top five at every race this season so far.

Norris in fifth led the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc in sixth, while the Alpine pairing of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso completed the team’s fine weekend with P7 and P8 – Alonso in particular having driven brilliantly in the race’s latter stages.

Bottas leads the pack into turn one.

After starting a “grim” P16, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo fought back to P9 at the chequered flag, with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly taking 10th after a late pass on Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

At the front though, the story of 2021’s fascinating Red Bull vs Mercedes battle had another chapter added to it at Portimao – with the wind now in the sails of the Silver Arrows.

As the drivers lined up on a sun-bathed and breezy Portimao track, all eyes were trained on the four medium-shod cars at the head of the field, Mercedes’ polesitter Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton at the front, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez immediately behind.

Both Mercedes moved away in tandem as the lights went out, with Bottas keeping enough momentum to hold P1 from Hamilton after the 302-metre run into Turn 1. Verstappen was well off the mark too to hold P3, but Perez was less brisk, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz – the highest-starting soft runner – using the advantage of the red-walled compound to nab P4.

McLaren’s Lando Norris was past Alpine’s Esteban Ocon for P6 into Turn 1, the duo trading places again at Turn 5, before Norris claimed the position definitively with a sweet move around the outside of the Frenchman at Turn 11.

Bottas had already built a handy cushion over Hamilton by the time he crossed the line at the end of Lap 1. Behind, though, Kimi Raikkonen was slipstreaming his Alfa Romeo team mate Antonio Giovinazzi for P12 down the main straight when he simply ran into the back of the Italian, Raikkonen losing his front wing as he speared into the Turn 1 gravel and brought out the Safety Car.

That crash was good news for McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, though, contributing to him climbing from P16 to P13, the biggest gainer after the opening gambit.

Raikkonen heads towards the gravel after contact with his Alfa Romeo teammate.

Bottas got the race going again on Lap 7, brilliantly bamboozling Hamilton, who appeared to be caught off guard at the restart, with the Finn scampering away as Verstappen perfectly timed his own acceleration phase to pass Hamilton immediately around the outside of Turn 1 for second place.

A mistake from Sainz into Turn 3 dropped him from fourth to P6 and allowed Perez back up to P4 – but not for long, as Norris attacked into Turn 5 to claim the place from the Mexican, Ocon falling to P8 as Ricciardo climbed another two positions to P11.

Hamilton exacted his revenge on Verstappen on Lap 11, the Mercedes DRS-ing past the Red Bull on the main straight, with Verstappen complaining to race engineer GianPiero Lambiase: “We’re a sitting duck” – with Hamilton then quickly putting a couple of seconds between himself and the Red Bull.

Perez had complained about Norris’ Safety Car restart pass on him, saying the Briton had completed the move outside of track limits – but the matter was rendered academic when Perez then passed the McLaren for fourth on Lap 16.

As Bottas crossed the line to start Lap 20 of 66, Hamilton had his DRS open and was coming at his team mate fast, Hamilton switching to the outside and sweeping through to claim the lead. That made the order Hamilton from Bottas and Verstappen – who was lurking close at hand – with Perez a further 8s adrift. Norris led the midfield in fifth, ahead of Sainz, Leclerc, Ocon, Pierre Gasly and Ricciardo, who’d passed his former Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel for P10 on Lap 18.

Sainz was the first driver to pit on Lap 21, taking on mediums, with McLaren covering off Sainz by bringing Norris in a lap later, the pair emerging 10th and 11th, Norris retaining the advantage. Leclerc had been the outlier of the midfield runners as the only one of them in the top 10 to start on mediums – with Leclerc then bolting on hard tyres on Lap 25, and providing some invaluable data for the yet-to-pit frontrunners.

With Verstappen making no impression on Bottas as Hamilton built a 3s gap at the head of the field, Red Bull brought their man in for new hard tyres on Lap 35, with Bottas mirroring him a lap later. Bottas was held a second longer than Verstappen had been, though – and despite emerging just ahead of the Dutchman, Verstappen was more confident out of Turn 4, using the DRS to move ahead of the Finn.

Leclerc made a switch from his medium to hard tyres which paid off.

Hamilton was having no such dramas, meanwhile, retaking the net lead after his stop for hards on Lap 37 (albeit behind actual leader Perez, who had yet to pit) 4s clear of Verstappen. Having climbed to P5, meanwhile, Ricciardo finally stopped for hards on Lap 41, but missed his marks in the pit box and was stopped for 4.8s, the Australian emerging P10 and behind Gasly, as Norris made it back to fifth, the 21-year-old beginning to come under pressure from Leclerc.

Meanwhile, having been sharking behind Sainz for a number of laps, a hard-charging Ocon was passed for P7 on Lap 44, the Alpine driver enjoying strong race pace on his own hard tyres.

Perez at the front found himself held up by the Haas of backmarker Nikita Mazepin, with the Russian handed a five-second penalty for his transgression as Perez eventually pitted for softs with 15 laps to go, emerging in P4.

By that time, Hamilton had built up a five-second gap to Verstappen, who was given some breathing room from Bottas when the Finn suffered a power loss – with Mercedes tracing the issue back to an exhaust temperature sensor failure, which was quickly reset.

With Hamilton clear at the front, Verstappen and Bottas had time in hand to make late stops to try and take the fastest lap. But although Verstappen ultimately did the quickest one of the pair on his final tour, it was Bottas who would take the bonus point after Verstappen was deemed to have left the track during his effort, and had his lap deleted.

Up at the front though, Hamilton had everything covered, deciding not to bother getting involved with the fastest lap shenanigans and instead easing across the line at the end of Lap 66 to take win number 97 – a fact which more than made up for not having taken pole number 100 the day before.

Behind, Verstappen had a clear run to second, while Bottas was left lamenting a “tricky” race, after seeing his pole position turn to P3 – with Toto Wolff having been moved to try and boost the Finn’s morale over team radio midway through the race. After the travails of Imola two weeks previously, however, the Portimao podium would have at least been something of a tonic for the Finn.

Hamilton gets past Verstappen despite the Red Bull driver’s efforts.

Sergio Perez never looked like getting involved in the fight at the front, but at least came home P4, his best result as a Red Bull driver, but with Mercedes stretching their lead over Red Bull from seven to 18 points.

Lando Norris’ status as one of the stars of the season was shored up by another excellent drive to P5, with Leclerc’s attack having been kept at bay in the latter part of the Grand Prix, as the Monegasque came home sixth. One of the stars of the race’s final stages, however, was Fernando Alonso, who passed Ricciardo and Sainz in quick succession to come home P8 behind team mate Ocon – Alpine having enjoyed by far their strongest weekend of 2021 so far.

Ricciardo put in a solid recovery to take ninth after his own late move on Sainz, with Gasly doing the same to take the final points-paying position, as Sainz could only claim 11th. Giovinazzi recovered from his contact with a “gutted” Raikkonen on Lap 2 to take 12th, ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll – the two Aston Martin drivers having struggled for race pace around Portimao, after Vettel had brilliantly put in his first Q3 performance in 15 races on Saturday.

It was a quiet race for Yuki Tsunoda in the second AlphaTauri, the Japanese coming home 15th and ahead of Williams’ George Russell, who’d started a promising P11 but complained of his FW43B being “undriveable” at points in the race, as he finished 16th.

A strong outing from Haas’ Mick Schumacher saw him pull a late pass on the second Williams of Nicholas Latifi to claim P17, Latifi taking 18th as Mazepin rounded out the order – with Raikkonen the only retiree from the Portuguese Grand Prix.

So, it’s Hamilton who stretches his lead to eight points in the title fight over Verstappen. Is the tide beginning to turn towards Mercedes? Or can Red Bull fight back in Spain? There’s only seven days until F1 fans will find out.

We don’t have to wait long for the next race because the F1 circus is crossing the Iberian peninsula en route for the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix on May 7-9. No one but Lewis Hamilton has won at the Spanish track since 2017 – but will any of his rivals be able to knock the championship leader off his perch?

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