By News Team
29th April 2021
The International Circuit in Portimāo plays host to the Formula One circus for just the second time for the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix this weekend.
Although the 1-2-3 of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen was a familiar result here last season, the race was much more exciting than it might seem on paper. Carlos Sainz started on the soft tyre for McLaren in seventh place and roared ahead of those on the medium compound – who simply had no traction in the greasy conditions – passing five cars on the opening lap and taking the lead on lap two.
Verstappen and Sergio Perez were also involved in a first lap collision, requiring a vintage ‘Checo’ recovery drive to finish P7. We preview all the action ahead of what should be another exciting race.
McLaren’s on the march
After missing out on a potential front-row start after having his lap time deleted for track limits in qualifying, Lando Norris delivered and then some on Sunday. His second F1 podium might have been on the second step if it wasn’t for Hamilton, but Norris defended admirably on a slower tyre before succumbing to the inevitable.
Aside from his own ability, Norris ‘performance also further indicated McLaren’s potential to separate themselves in the race for the third fastest constructor. While Ferrari have also made significant strides from last season, the gap may be too much for them to push a Mercedes-powered McLaren this campaign. McLaren are currently 4/6 favourites in the top constructor market without Mercedes and Red Bull, with Ferrari 11/10.
Make no mistake about it, if the front-runners encounter any mechanical issues or take each other out of a race, McLaren could well be the beneficiaries in picking up their first win since Jenson Button at the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix. It might not come this weekend, but odds such as Norris to win at 33/1, or nine-time race-winning team-mate Daniel Ricciardo to win at 66/1 could well bear fruit at some stage this season.
Ricciardo has performed admirably in his new car in the first two races this season, even if he has been slightly behind his new team-mate. He’ll be keen to bridge that gap this weekend after being ordered to let Norris through during the last race at Imola. As with his move to Renault though, the Australian will undoubtedly come good at some stage. He and his team-mate are currently 9/5 to both finish in the top six this weekend.
Lewis v Max
After Hamilton had prevailed in act one in Bahrain, it was Verstappen who would take the win last time out at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Hamilton managed to score fastest lap however, and thus leads the championship from his Red Bull rival by a solitary point. It looks set to be one of the closest championship battles in years and the Lewis v Max rivalry will only intensify as the season progresses.
Whilst Mercedes had been publicly pragmatic about the effect this season’s regulations had taken on their car compared to cars with a lower rake angle, it appears the Red Bulls are not as far away as many would have had you believe. Aside from a Hamilton mistake in wet conditions at Imola, the two have been difficult to separate in practice, qualifying and race conditions so far this season.
It will be interesting to see how much of a role Bottas and Perez will play for their respective team-mates, or whether it will be Lewis vs Max at almost every race this season – not that this would be a bad thing.
Even the market has little to separate the two, with both Hamilton and Verstappen currently 11/8 to win this weekend.
Pressure on Bottas and Russell
Another interesting narrative that may develop as the season progresses is the battle between Bottas and George Russell. With the former out of contract with Mercedes at the end of this season and the young Brit widely touted to be the one that will take his place after filling in for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix in December.
Of course, Bottas would not have expected to be battling Russell on track in his Williams, but so it came to be at Imola last time out. With Russell running in the points, he had the run on Bottas and attempted a move around the outside of the main straight, only to take grass on the right-hand side and spin straight into the Finn – ending both of their races in the process.
Whilst Bottas is well aware of the pressure to finish in the top two in his Mercedes every weekend, Russell will have won no fans at the Silver Arrows for ultimately causing a crash that cost the team points. Whether we will get to see more on-track battles between the two this weekend depends on the Finn’s performance more so than Russell’s and he is currently 9/1 to win the race.