Mercedes took a dominant one-two finish in Portugal last year but are likely to find the competition much tougher at the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix (Race: 3pm Sunday; TV: Live on Sky Sports F1).
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas qualified and finished first and second respectively for Mercedes at last year’s Grand Prix, in what was the first Formula One race in Portugal since 1996, and the first ever at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimao.
The event found its way onto the calendar after the cancellation of other F1 races and was expected to be a one-off. It has, though, returned to the schedule this year and will host what seems set to be exciting weekend of action.
Hamilton and Mercedes have had their way for almost the entirety of the hybrid-engine era, but the early evidence suggests that it is Red Bull that have the slight pace edge in 2021. Hamilton did well to beat Max Verstappen and Red Bull to victory in the season opener but it was Verstappen who triumphed in changeable conditions in Imola two weeks ago.
Things could have been different had Hamilton not slid off the track when working his way through back markers in close pursuit of Verstappen following the first round of pitstops. As it was, it was Verstappen who came away with victory, suffering only one minor slip up in a race in which many more major mistakes were made.
A safety car period following a spectacular accident involving Bottas and the Williams of George Russell gifted Hamilton the lap he had lost in the aftermath of his off and gave him the opportunity to fight back from ninth to take second.
How will things shake out in Portimao? Mercedes have made it clear that they believe Red Bull to have the stronger package at this point of the season, while Red Bull have tried to play that down, suggesting Mercedes may have the advantage both in Portugal and in Spain the following week.
Regardless of how their cars compare in terms of ultimate pace, Hamilton has been able to fight with Verstappen for victory in both of the races to date, and the pair of them are again likely to go toe-to-toe. It is, though, Verstappen who is most likely to come out on top on this occasion.
His chances of doing so would be greatly improved if his teammate Sergio Perez was also able to get himself into the mix at the front and limit Mercedes’ strategy options.
Perez has already shown flashes of speed in his two races with the team since joining from Racing Point (now Aston Martin). He charged through the field from a pit lane start to finish fifth in Bahrain, and then qualified second at Imola only to have a mistake-filled race in the rain that failed to yield points. He admitted that it should really have been a Red Bull one-two.
After that relative failure, Perez will be determined to get everything hooked up properly in Portugal. He qualified fifth and finished seventh there for Racing Point last year, and a first podium finish with Red Bull could well be on the cards this time around.
Lando Norris continued his strong start to the season by putting together a mature drive to finish third for McLaren in Imola ahead of the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz and his McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Pierre Gasly came home seventh for AlphaTauri, followed by the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll and the two Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso. The last named was picking up his first point since his return to the sport.
The AlphaTauri has showed good pace so far this year. Debutant Yuki Tsunoda finished ninth in Bahrain, while Gasly has qualified fifth for both Grand Prix. First lap contact and a broken front wing ruined his race in Bahrain, before a decision to start on full wet tyres in Imola didn’t really work out for him, even though he was later able to recover to finish seventh.
Gasly finished fifth at last year’s F1 Portuguese Grand Prix and the early evidence suggests he has a car capable of replicating that kind of finish on Sunday.
Click for F1 Portuguese Grand Prix outright winner and pole position odds as well as Drivers’ Championship and Constructors’ title betting.