F1: Seven things we learned from the Portuguese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton reasserts Mercedes domination, Mick Schumacher enjoys his best race yet, Red Bull need more from Sergio Perez, and track limits row is the F1 equivalent of football’s VAR storm – SEVEN things we learned from the Portuguese Grand Prix

  • Lewis Hamilton recovered from early set-back to win the Portuguese Grand Prix
  • The Brit’s win came at the expense of damaging Valtteri Bottas’s title credentials
  • Red Bull need Sergio Perez to continue his improvement to aid title bids
  • Mick Schumacher enjoyed a confidence boosting weekend behind his Haas car
  • Sportsmail looks at the seven things we learned from the action at Portimao 

The Portuguese Grand Prix produced a similar looking story with Lewis Hamilton heading an easy race win in front of title rival Max Verstappen and team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Yet it wasn’t all easy for the seven-time world champion who had to battle back from a poor start where he dropped to third before making his way up into first and then strolling on to victory.

While it was business as usual for Hamilton following his Imola defeat by Verstappen last time out, there was plenty happening behind the seven-time world champion in the pack as Sportsmail looks at the seven things we learned from the Portuguese Grand Prix. 

Lewis Hamilton (centre) celebrates his Portuguese Grand Prix victory with Valtteri Bottas (R)

Hamilton had to pass Bottas as well as title rival Max Verstappen (top) to win at Portimao

This was a classic Lewis Hamilton performance and is an example of why he is the best in the business and that it is not ‘all about the car’.

Although it certainly does help to have an all-conquering machine like a Mercedes, it’s only as useful as the guy behind the wheel and his recovery drive to secure a comfortable victory was that of a driver looking to win a record eighth world championship. 

From qualifying second on the grid, Hamilton endured a poor start to the race, admitting calling himself ‘an idiot’ following an early safety car where he briefly dropped behind third-placed Max Verstappen.

Hamilton celebrates after strolling towards his second race win of the 2021 season

‘We got the Safety Car and I did everything to keep the temperatures right in the tyres but the restart, I literally took my eyes off Valtteri for one second to see where Max was and Valtteri had gone,’ he told Sky Sports.

‘So that was a mistake. Then following that, one other mistake was that I was in the tow of Valtteri and I just should have just stayed there. But instead I moved over and gave Max the tow and he came flying past me.’ 

Hamilton though battled back well from adversity, easily and calmly passing his chief title rival and his team-mate to waltz into the lead and from then on enjoying a comfortable afternoon on his way to a second win of the season.

Mistakes have curiously crept into Hamilton’s scrappy start to 2021, but his talent is mopping those up and ensuring he remains top of the F1 tree. 

Hamilton’s dominant victory has thrown the momentum behind Mercedes again

Bottas blew title credentials

Every action has a reaction and while Hamilton is showing that 36-year-olds can still rule the roost in competitive sports, his team-mate Bottas suffered as a result of it.

Much of the early season talk has been about how this year’s title fight will be between Hamilton and Verstappen, and the Portuguese Grand Prix was the Finn’s chance to shoehorn his name into the mix – especially after grabbing pole position.

But Bottas could not keep up on race day, with Hamilton breezing past to take the lead, while he even fell behind Verstappen late on to finish a highly dispiriting third. 

Team chief Totto Wolf admitted the Sunday decline down the order was exaggerated after a sensor issue cost Bottas around five seconds in his fight with Verstappen.

Pole man Valtteri Bottas led away at the start but gradually fell to third during the race

‘That was unfortunate, because he really caught up well to Max, and then it kind of stabilised at 1.5, 1.6 seconds, but he had more to come at the end of the race,’ Wolff said.

‘We made a switch change, in order to basically override a sensor that was saying we are running too hot on exhaust temperatures, and we couldn’t override it. So the engine went in protection mode and cost him five seconds.’

While Bottas can take a little heart from this, it still appears to be an issue that had Hamilton stumbled upon it would not resulted with him dropping from pole to third by the end of a race.

Bottas will have more chances in 2021 to try and prove his title credentials but in his first big audition he has fallen flat. 

Bottas blew a good opportunity to assert himself into the drivers’ title mix on Sunday

Mick Schumacher is starting to settle

Being thrown in the deep end of Formula One usually means landing a debut drive in your rookie season at an established team, but it can prove just as difficult out of the spotlight.

It looks like being a tough year for Schumacher, son of seven-time champion Michael, who with the struggling Haas outfit has a car that seems very difficult to drive and likely to be propping up the field for the majority of the season.

His first couple of races saw him make a few errors in terms of spins, but he is now starting to settle on the grid after an impressive drive that enabled him to see off team-mate Nikita Mazepin with ease, and the bonus of passing Williams’ Nicholas Latifi for 17th place late on.

Mick Schumacher enjoyed a promising weekend behind the wheel of the Haas at Portimao

Schumacher even admitted targeting George Russell in the sister Williams and post race his strong display gave him confidence to target bigger results for the rest of the season. 

‘We had a lot more pace. It was unfortunate we didn’t get by earlier because I think otherwise we had a decent race in terms of lap time in front of us,’ he said.

‘Maybe we could have even caught up to George [Russell]. But I feel like we were a big, big step forwards from where we were at Imola and I think if we keep on making those steps we will be in a very good place at the end of the year.’  

Schumacher believes the team now have the pace to challenge Williams during a race

Red Bull need more from Sergio Perez

Red Bull’s lack of a stable No 2 driver has proven a problem since Daniel Ricciardo left the team at the end of 2018 following over two years battling hard with Max Verstappen.

Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon have tried to replace the now McLaren driver during that time, with neither having any success in being able to at least provide capable back-up to Verstappen.

It’s hurting Red Bull at the front too as it leaves Verstappen vulnerable to Mercedes who can tactically use Hamilton and Bottas as an advantage to see off any threat from the Dutchman.

Sergio Perez’s arrival this season was in part to help neuter that Mercedes advantage but he has found himself in a similar position to his predecessors in battling teams beneath him.

Sergio Perez (left) was left battling Ferrari and McLaren in the early stages at Portimao

Admittedly after falling behind and then repassing Lando Norris’s McLaren, he strolled to fourth place, albeit a distant one behind the podium finishers.

The Mexican is showing promise though and improving race-by-race but Red Bull still need more from their No 2 driver especially if they want to be able to pressurise Hamilton and Mercedes for both world championships.

Perez admitted after the race he had misjudged his battle with Norris thinking he was going to be let past after seemingly being illegally overtaken by the Brit. 

‘I looked at my mirrors and I thought Lando was totally off the track limit,’ he said.

‘Therefore, I didn’t fight the position hard enough, thinking that he was going to give me back the place,’ he explained. ‘But I probably misjudged that one.

‘It took me a couple of laps to get past Lando and that created a gap to the leader that I was basically off the race by then.’

Red Bull will be happy with Perez’s improvement but will hope there is still more to come

Ferrari struggle with strategy again

Ferrari may not be the basket case team they were last season, but they are still finding incredible ways to throw away advantages on race day.

The Italian team showed good pace in qualifying with Carlos Sainz placed fifth and in with a shout of battling old rivals McLaren on race day.

Early on those calls looked justified but both drivers struggled with medium tyre pace. Sainz in particular struggling most on the compound after dropping all the way down to 11th and out of the points by the end of the race.

Typically, Leclerc battled well and impressively grounded out a sixth-placed finish despite also struggling on the medium compound. 

Carlos Sainz qualified fifth for Ferrari but tyre issues on race day saw him finish only 11th

Sainz said post-race: ‘We didn’t have a good day. Even though I got a good start, the race was very tough after the pit stop.

‘During the first stint I was feeling very good on the Soft tyre behind Lando, Then, we tried the undercut by changing quite early onto the medium and it didn’t work. From there on, it was a big struggle to make it to the end with that compound due to the graining.’

Admittedly conditions on the low-grip Portimao surface did not make the hard tyre a very inviting option, but Ferrari should have had some clue as to just how bad their cars would perform on the medium compound.

Both Sainz (left) and his team-mate Charles Leclerc struggled although the latter placed sixth

Ocon and Alonso lead Alpine improvement

After a mediocre pre-season Alpine could be one of the teams to keep an eye on following a steady improvements since the opening race in Bahrain. 

The Portuguese Grand Prix was their best yet with Esteban Ocon finishing seventh and Fernando Alonso producing a strong drive after a poor qualifying session that had left him 13th to come in one place behind his team-mate.

So far the two-time world champion has been edged out by his younger team-mate in Ocon, but both are helping the British-French outfit up the grid.

Fernando Alonso is getting up to speed again as he continues his Formula One return at Alpine

Alonso enjoyed a late race surge past Gasly, Sainz and Ricciardo to take eighth and is now confident the team formerly known as Renault can lead a fight to the likes of McLaren and Ferrari above them in the constructors’ championship.

The 39-year-old said: ‘It was a very good weekend in general. The car has performed well, and we’ve made a big step forwards, fighting with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren in the race, which is different to where we were in Bahrain and Imola.

‘It was the first race weekend where I felt comfortable and could push the car hard.’

Alonso battled back from a poor qualifying result of 13th to take a credible eighth on race day

Track limit row is F1’s VAR fury equivalent

Track limits are becoming one of the most controversial topics in Formula One – the equivalent of football’s VAR. It appears to be splitting fans over how harshly rules are applied to cars sticking on a circuit, or not being applied at all.

The row has puzzlingly now extended into quite a few years, with drivers taking advantage of the ever-increasing tarmac run-off areas off the circuit to take a faster course around the track.

In response F1 stewards have started penalising drivers who in the race do it too often, while in practice and qualifying deleting lap times altogether.

The exploration of track limits came to the forefront at Portimao during the Portuguese GP

The trouble is they only police certain corners and sometimes ludicrously rule a kerb (officially not part of an F1 circuit) as being part of the track.

Portimao is a hotspot for running off the circuit, and it led to Perez even thinking Norris had passed him illegally as F1 drivers explore every inch of advantage they can exploit to set the quickest time.

For fans watching, it is utter frustration at the lack of consistency, and it begs the question of why a standard rule cannot be applied to all corners which is easy to follow, like at least one wheel must remain within the white lines around the circuit.

The twist here is that rule is already in place, yet teams and drivers are continually allowed to exploit some corners more than others. One day a world championship could be decided on such matters, and there will be little sympathy with the sport if the situation is not addressed before then.

Teams have often started using the run-off areas as part of a racing line to go faster

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