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#1030 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix

2021-04-12 00:00

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#2020,

#1030 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix

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As it is known, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the FIA was forced to modify the calendar throughout the season, cancelling and moving some races. In this regard, on Friday 24 July 2020 it was announced that the Grand Prix of Portugal would have been back, after twenty-four years, while the last edition has been carries out during the 1996 season, on the Estoril circuit, even though the race was included in the provisional World Championship calendar, both in 1997 and 1998, without being confirmed.

 

Also in this race, as in the three previous ones, spectators are allowed to participate in the stands. In spite of the problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, at first the organizers announced the sale of 46,000 tickets for the race, on a capacity of about 75,000 seats at the circuit; however, due to an increase in the number of positive cases caused by the pandemic in the country and the mandatory quarantine, Paulo Pinheiro, the promoter of the Lusitanian race, later decided that the capacity should be reduced, setting the new maximum limit at 27.000 seats. Also, regarding the possibility of seeing a Grand Prix in Portugal again in the years to come, the promoter admits:

 

"There are many circuits with contracts, but the possibility of introducing a rotation for certain races makes us dream. Our circuit is attractive and the Grand Prix is generating a lot of expectations. We are meeting the schedule and the specifications, which are complex and challenging. We have replaced the asphalt and installed new signage, bridges and miles of cables. Our team consists of only 55 people, but we are highly motivated to make our lifelong dream come true".

 

The Portuguese Grand Prix will be held at the brand new Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, near Portimão, which for the first time will host a Formula 1 World Championship race. It is the fourth track, after the Boavista circuit in Porto in 1958 and 1960, the Monsanto circuit in Lisbon in 1959 and the Estoril circuit in Cascais between 1984 and 1996, to host the Grand Prix of Portugal, valid as a World Championship race. In addition to these tracks there is also the Cascais circuit in the town of the same name, which hosted editions with sports cars and Formula 3. The circuit hosted winter tests in 2008 and the GP2 Series in 2009, the ancestor series of the current Formula 2. On that occasion, among the participating drivers, there were also two of the drivers involved in this championship: Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez of Racing Point, the former as a substitute and the latter as the team's regular driver.

 

The circuit has a length of 4,653 meters and winds through fifteen curves, nine on the right and six on the left. The first intermediate is located 270 meters before the VIP Tower (turn 5), while the second is 80 meters after the Portimão (turn 11). The speed trap, the point where the maximum speed is measured, is located 210 meters before the first corner. The race distance is 66 laps, equal to 306.826 kilometers. The Grand Prix is sponsored by Heineken.

 

Still on the subject of changes to the calendar, on Friday 16 October 2020 it was announced that the debut on the calendar of the Grand Prix of Vietnam, which was to take place on a city track, designed on the streets of the capital Hanoi, after being postponed in previous months, is postponed to 2021, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Originally planned for April, it was assumed that the race could be held in November, but the organizers, after the decision taken with Liberty Media, decided to cancel the race, both for logistical reasons and because of a high number of cases of positivity dictated by the pandemic in the country. The championship therefore sees the final confirmation of seventeen events.

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The International Automobile Federation foresees only one zone where DRS can be used, that is the pit straight. The point for determining the gap between drivers is located after Sagres (turn 14). In addition, the FIA places sensors at the exit of the first and fourth corners to make drivers respect the track limits, causing lap time cancellation. However, after the cancellation of as many as 125 times during the first and second free practice sessions on Friday, the race director, Michael Masi, will announce that from the third free practice session on Saturday only the times obtained when going over the kerbs with the whole car will be invalidated.

 

Former Formula 1 driver Vitalij Petrov is appointed as assistant race commissioner by the FIA. This should be the first time that the Russian has held this role in a race weekend; however, Petrov leaves the role of steward after qualifying, due to a family bereavement. He is replaced for the race by Portuguese Bruno Correia, driver of the Formula E and WTCR safety car, who is also filling this role for the first time. The appointment of Vitaly Petrov as the drivers' representative on the board of stewards of the Portuguese Grand Prix had surprised Lewis Hamilton, who had not appreciated the controversy raised by the former Russian driver over the gesture of kneeling on the grid, later reinforced after the exhibition of the T-shirt on Breonna Taylor on the podium at Mugello.

 

"This all seems a bit much. What if one of the drivers comes out as gay? Will they come out with a rainbow flag and invite everyone else to be gay or something?"

 

Petrov had said, annoying Hamilton, who is returning to the issue during a press conference scheduled for the Portuguese Grand Prix:

 

"I haven't heard or read all the statements, I think these are just part of the interview. I would say that anyway it's a surprise to see the FIA hire someone who has those beliefs and is so outspoken about things that we are all trying to fight against together. You have to ask them why they made that choice, there's not much I can do about that. I do think, though, that you should consider people who are in step with the times that we live in and sensitive to the issues that we're facing. So I don't really understand what their goal is or why he in particular is here, I don't think they don't have other good options".

 

However, the Federation did not hesitate in its response to the Mercedes driver, defending its choice:

 

"The FIA appoints as stewards drivers with the right experience and expertise in Formula 1 to perform this function at the highest level and who have expressed their availability. In this process, the Federation does not rely on opinions expressed outside this function, provided that any such expression does not contravene the FIA's regulations and Code of Ethics".

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After having missed due to health problems the previous race, the first edition of the Eifel Grand Prix, but having discovered his positivity to Covid-19 on the Monday after the Grand Prix and having been replaced by the German Nico Hülkenberg, Lance Stroll is regularly present at this race. In this regard, Racing Point receives a warning from the Federation for not having communicated, within the timeframe foreseen by the protocol introduced at the beginning of the season, Stroll's positivity, as it had already happened to Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc, before the Styrian Grand Prix, since they had returned to their residences. It is the Canadian driver himself to confirm his presence at the Grand Prix of Portugal, through his social channels. A news then confirmed by the British team, on Wednesday 21 October 2020:

 

"As stated this morning by Lance Stroll on social, Racing Point can confirm that its driver tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday 11 October. Lance had left the team's bubble in Germany on Saturday, October 10 because he was unable to race due to a recurring stomach ache. Lance had first reported this ailment during the week of the Russian Grand Prix and subsequently tested negative for Covid-19 several times after testing in line with FIA protocols. He also tested negative before arriving in Germany in the official pre-event test for the Eifel Grand Prix. On Saturday, the symptoms returned, forcing Lance to withdraw from the race and remain in his motorhome away from the paddock. He consulted with a doctor, who did not believe his symptoms were due to Covid-19 and did not feel a retest was necessary. Based on this clinical evaluation, at that time we did not believe it was critical to inform the FIA about the nature of the illness".

 

The team also explains the diatribe regarding Lance Stroll's return to his residence:

 

"Lance therefore returned to his home in Switzerland by private plane on Sunday morning. In line with Racing Point's protocol that all team members are tested upon return from a Grand Prix, Lance took a Covid-19 test at home and received a positive result the next day. He continued to isolate himself for ten days from the date of the test, consistent with local regulations. He returned a negative test this past Monday and will be with us in Portugal. All team members present during the Eifel Grand Prix returned to the UK via a private charter flight and tested negative on arrival, as well as the new pre-Grand Prix Portugal swab".

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In anticipation of the Portuguese Grand Prix, Pirelli, the sole supplier of tires, is providing the C1, C2 and C3 compounds, the three hardest in the range. In addition, over the course of the weekend, the Italian company plans to carry out tests with next season's compound tires, to be carried out during the first thirty minutes of Friday's second free practice session. Drivers will have to try two different tire specifications. Originally, these tests were supposed to take place during the second round at Silverstone, in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, and in Barcelona, in the Spanish Grand Prix. However, after the tire problems that emerged in the second English race, the tests were postponed, choosing the Portuguese circuit. In this regard, Mario Isola, head of Pirelli in Formula 1, states:

 

"We have sent a request to the FIA to be able to carry out a tire development, or validation, test at Portimao because we believe that track is very representative. We don't have any information on Portimao as it is a new race on the calendar, but we can make a comparison with the tires that will be used that weekend. We could not send a request for Imola as the weekend will be held over two days. These tests can only be done in a three day weekend where the drivers are busy in FP1, FP2 and FP3. We also discarded the Nurburgring because we will be there in a particularly cold period. We could have applied for Bahrain, but we will go there after November 1 and that date is the last one available for us to present the new specification. For this reason Portimao was considered the best option to test different types of tires".

 

Isola also comments on possible changes to the 2021 specification:

 

"We have some margin on the front, where we can play with the outer profiles, while on the rear there are more difficulties since the test will take place on the current cars and we cannot test different tires in terms of size because the bottoms of the cars should also be changed. We are working on the construction, but I don't exclude that we could also see a change in the compounds".

 

A recent rule change allows the FIA and Pirelli to deviate from the eight sets of Soft, three of Medium and two of Hard originally planned as the standard allocation for 2020. Isola confirms that, for the shortened Imola weekend, drivers will have ten sets of slick tires, instead of the usual thirteen, but the division between Hard, Medium and Soft is still under review. In addition, the numbers could be adjusted for some of the less familiar tracks that have been added to the schedule.

 

"We are still discussing whether to adopt this option for some of the new circuits introduced this season and are considering whether to add a set of Hard and remove a set of Soft. We are also finalizing the choice of compounds for the final races. Bahrain will be run on two different track layouts. The second one is definitely less severe than the first one based on our simulations and those received from FOM. The idea is to go to Bahrain with a selection of tires one step softer than those used last season. In 2019 we brought C1, C2 and C3 but nobody used C1. For this reason we would like to bring the C2, C3 and C4 compounds. Our idea is to use these specifications for the second race as well. On the other hand, we can't use C5 because it is too aggressive for this type of circuit and for that type of asphalt. It is the most abrasive of those on the calendar".

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In the press conference that opens the weekend of the Portuguese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton talks about his future and goals for this season. Mercedes is in fact close to its seventh consecutive constructors' title. A title that could already be won in Portimão, although it is more realistic to achieve it in Imola or Istanbul. Mercedes, in fact, leads the constructors' championship with 180 points over Red Bull Racing, but to win its seventh consecutive title, the German team must obtain 40 points more than the Austrian team. In the event of a Mercedes one-two and fastest lap, the two Red Bull Racing drivers should do no better than ninth and tenth.

 

"This is a great achievement for the team. I am proud of my team and endlessly grateful for their hard work. I know the team doesn't stop at records, we all continue to work hard. I want to stay here, but we still need to talk about contract renewal. I focus on the season and not on negotiations".

 

The driver of Mercedes refers also to the issue related to the fact that the Federation has chosen Petrov as steward, stating:

 

"I have not read all his sentences. But I must say that I am surprised that they hire certain people who convey ideas that we are trying to fight. We should definitely include people who are up to date, understanding of the times we live in and sensitive to the issues around us. I don't understand what he's doing here, it's not that we lack alternatives".

 

Echoed by Valtteri Bottas:

 

"Obviously I don't know in detail what he said. But I think, as Lewis said, we should all have the same mindset for the ideals we are trying to convey".

 

The job of second driver at Red Bull is not among the safest and most stable in Formula 1. Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly have found this out in the past and Alexander Albon is experiencing it now. The young Thai driver's contract expires at the end of this season but he is not sure if he will get his renewal, especially after Helmut Marko started to mention Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg as possible alternatives to Verstappen's current teammate, should he fail to convince the team's top management in these last races. Asked about these issues in the press conference on the eve of the Portuguese Grand Prix, Albon tries to show confidence about his future.

 

"I feel a lot of support from Red Bull, I focus on the remaining races. I have to do well. The pressure is something that is always there. I'm focused on this year. I'd like to stay at Red Bull, I'm not looking around anywhere else".

 

Focused on the upcoming event, with the debut of Portimao circuit for Formula 1, is the Dutchman, Red Bull's only attempt to approach Mercedes' performance:

 

"We are constantly learning new things about the car. We have to keep working and then we'll see where we are next year. It's a nice track because of the elevation changes it presents. I have already driven a GT car here. It was pure coincidence. At the time I didn't know that the track would be on the calendar".

 

Another illustrious interviewee is Sebastian Vettel who, in the press conference that opens the race weekend, praises Leclerc for how he has been able to achieve relevant results on the SF1000.

 

"We agree that the car is not easy to drive. And we certainly experience it differently, because I know I'll be leaving the team shortly. I have to say this, though: Leclerc regularly manages to bring out one hundred per cent of the car's potential. I struggle at times. However, I want to end the season doing what I know I can achieve. Ferrari will always have a special place in my heart, thanks to its history, thanks to Michael Schumacher. I will close this chapter at the end of the season, but I want to do it properly".

 

And talking about the circuit, the German declared:

 

"I think the circuit is really exciting. There are so many changes of gradient, so many blind corners. In terms of preparation I've tried to find some on-board, but there's a very limited amount, at least taking into account quite fast cars. I've been on the simulator, I think that will help me, then we'll see. I think it's nice to race at a new circuit, personally I've never raced in Portugal in Formula 1. I think I've never even raced in Portugal in my career, I've been to Estoril but without racing, so I'm excited to be here. What other track would I like to discover in Formula 1? I'd say Macau, that would be fantastic. And then there's the Nordschleife, but I know that will never happen. I'd also like Bathurst, it would be interesting, but with our cars we'd want to be there".

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Shortly before the start of the weekend, Thursday, October 22, 2020 the two Haas drivers, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, who have raced with the team since the 2016 and 2017 seasons respectively, announce that they will leave the American team at the end of the season. The first to make the announcement of his farewell to the team is Romain Grosjean, who on his Facebook page first writes, then removes and publishes again this post.

 

"The last chapter is closed and the book is finished. I have been with the Haas F1 team since day one. Five years in which we have gone through extraordinary moments, but also lows. But it's the journey that counts. I've learned a lot, I've improved and I've become a better driver, as well as a better man I hope I've helped the people on the team to improve in turn. This is just my biggest pride, more than all the crazy races in 2016 or the fourth place at the Austrian Grand Prix in 2018. I wish the team all the best for the future. Romain".

 

A few minutes after this message, comes Kevin Magnussen's post, repeating what his teammate wrote.

 

"Hello everyone. The 2020 Formula 1 season will be the last for me with the Haas F1 team. I have had a great time with the team over the past four years and when I look back, I can see a of having accomplished a great journey. Being part of a new team has been a challenge and I have enjoyed it thoroughly, it has given me a lot of experience that has helped me develop as a race driver. I would like to thank Gene Haas, Gunther Steiner and everyone on the team for their loyalty and belief in me over the past four years. I am still working on my plans for the future. These will be announced at a later date. There are still six races left in the season and I am determined to try to finish them all and get a great result. Thanks to everyone for the support".

 

The Haas team in turn thanks its drivers through the words of team principal, Gunther Steiner:

 

"I want to thank both Romain and Kevin for their hard work and commitment put in for the team over the years. Romain has been a key part as we chose an experienced and very fast driver at the beginning of our adventure. His results at the beginning of 2016 were a just reward not only for his talent, but also for the effort the team put in to be already on the grid during that season. When Kevin joined the team a season later, we saw both cars go to the points and, of course, the double points finish in Monaco that season. We have so many good memories together, especially the 2019 season when we finished fifth in the Constructors' standings in our third year in Formula 1. Romain and Kevin played a significant role in this success. of course, in the 2020 season there are still many races to come. It's been a challenging year, no doubt about it, but both drivers have given their all behind the wheel of the VF-20. We appreciate their contributions and experience as we continue to push the team towards the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December".

 

Later in the press conference, Romain Grosjean does not hide the real motivations that led Gunther Steiner to revolutionize the driver pair ahead of next season.

 

"All stories are destined to end; however, I am surprised that both Kevin and I were left out of the plans for 2021. I thought only one of us would have to step aside. Steiner told me we both have to leave for financial reasons".

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Friday, October 23, 2020, in the first free practice session only the two Mercedes drivers are able to go under the time of one minute and nineteen seconds. Valtteri Bottas is 0.3 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton. The Finnish driver gets his time on Medium tires, which present, however, graining problems for the German cars. The Mercedes prove to be very competitive also with the Hard compound. Max Verstappen is third, almost 0.8 seconds off Bottas' time; behind him are Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon.

 

The other Ferrari driver, Sebastian Vettel, is further behind, but uses the first part of the session to test some innovations designed by the Maranello team for the 2021 car. The conditions of the track, not very rubberized, its altitude and the little knowledge of it by the drivers, lead to several driving errors. The only technical problem worth mentioning is a problem with the power unit on the Renault of Esteban Ocon. At the end of FP1 Alfa Romeo Racing is fined 200 Euros by the FIA because Kimi Räikkönen has exceeded the speed limit in the pit lane.

 

As announced in the first half hour of the session, the teams test three sets of C2 and C3 compound tires, in the configuration for 2021, with three different types of construction. All the single-seaters face the track with 105 kilos of petrol, in order to have homogeneous conditions for data collection. Bottas confirms to be competitive also in the afternoon session on Friday. The Mercedes driver takes the new track record, using soft tires, in a session characterized by two interruptions. The first was due to the explosion of the power unit on Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri, which also led to a fire on the car. The Frenchman had however managed to park the car at the thirteenth corner.

 

A few minutes after the car's recovery operations were concluded, an accident occurred between Lance Stroll's Racing Point and Max Verstappen's Red Bull Racing car. The two cars make contact, at the first corner, due to a misunderstanding between the two drivers. The session will start again when there will be only a few minutes left to the end of the session, so many drivers will give up looking for a last fast lap. Among them Lando Norris, climbed up to the third place, behind Verstappen. The race direction also cancelled a lot of times, due to the cutting of the track limits set by the FIA at the exit of the first and fourth corners.

 

At the end of the session, the Renault team is summoned by the stewards, as on Daniel Ricciardo's car a tire not corresponding to the same specification set by the Federation has been mounted. The French team receives a warning. Shortly afterwards, Lance Stroll and Max Verstappen are also summoned by the stewards for the accident that occurred at the first corner; at the end of the interview, the stewards decide not to penalize the drivers for being at fault.

 

"Stroll was on a fast lap and on the lap prior to the accident he had received road from Verstappen. Based on the information received from his team, and from the custom in these cases, Verstappen believed that Stroll would not continue for a second fast lap and would move onto the long main straight. The Racing Point wall, however, asked the Canadian to proceed with a second lap and Stroll thought that Verstappen would raise his foot to create a margin between the two cars without expecting an overtaking maneuver. Both drivers, once heard, stated that the incident was the result of a misunderstanding that, with hindsight, could have been easily avoided. For this reason, the commissioners have decided not to punish either of them since neither Verstappen nor Stroll had a predominant role in the dynamics of the collision".

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Speaking about the incident in FP2, Lance Stroll states:

 

"It was a difficult day because it was not an easy track and the grip was very low. All the drivers were struggling. However, we know where to improve in terms of the balance of the car. The track is fantastic and the layout is a lot of fun, I just wish it had a bit more grip. On the other hand, though, it will be a challenge and any mistake will be punished. The incident with Verstappen was unfortunate. We talked and clarified the situation: I don't think he expected me to make a second fast lap, while I didn't expect someone to come alongside me. Since he had let me pass, I thought he would slide back, but he didn't and in the end we got into a fight when neither of us expected it".

 

From his point of view though, Verstappen says he did nothing wrong, shifting responsibility for the episode onto the Canadian pilot:

 

"About the contact I don't want to talk. I was surprised that he turned normally while I was coming towards him. I didn't know where to go. I was starting my turn and he had just finished it. It's a shame that we touched. It was FP2, could he maybe have backed off?"

 

While regarding the work done, the Dutchman states:

 

"It was not easy with the new asphalt, it was quite slippery. There was only one trajectory in which you could drive, otherwise you end up a bit too wide and you don't find enough grip. The tires take a while to warm up, so it's pretty tricky. The afternoon was pretty positive overall. The car improved from FP1 to FP2, we were able to drive it with a good balance. We have to continue like this trying to progress further. There are several aspects in which we can still do better tomorrow".

 

The chase for the sixth place in the Constructors' standings for Alpha Tauri started rather badly on the Portimao circuit. The team from Faenza, despite good chronometric results, has encountered serious reliability issues. In particular, the Honda power unit of Pierre Gasly had a problem in the afternoon session, preventing the Frenchman from completing the last part of the session.

 

"It was not an ideal Friday in Portimao. I discovered the track this morning in FP1 and I must say that it is really nice, with those ups and downs that make it really enjoyable. Unfortunately, during FP2 we had a problem and there was a fire, so we are still trying to understand what exactly happened. Because of this, it was not possible for us to do a fast lap on soft tires and it's a shame, it would have been nice to see where we were compared to the others in the short runs. Our overall performance seems quite good, although I'm still not fully satisfied with the car and I'm hoping for a step forward for tomorrow. To be well prepared for qualifying it will be crucial to have a clean FP3 and thus aim for a good starting position ahead of Sunday".

 

For this race weekend, both Pierre Gasly of Scuderia AlphaTauri and Nicholas Latifi of Williams had been forced to change the body of their car; the Frenchman following a fire after an engine problem during the second free practice session, while the Canadian due to the discovery of a crack in the chassis of the single-seater. Undoubtedly, the tests were more satisfactory for Valtteri Bottas, who during the afternoon talks about the condition of the track and the first sensations of his car:

 

"Today was a good day. This is a very good track to drive on: it could definitely have been worse. It was quite slippery, it reminded me a lot of Sochi or the first time in Austin. On the other hand, we were on a new asphalt and this means problems in terms of grip. I think that's why we saw so many spins today. The track improved over the course of the day but perhaps took a step backwards between the two sessions: I still expect an increase in grip for the rest of the weekend. The balance of the car was also very good. I struggled especially in the low-speed corners with the rear of the car, but it's not too far off the way I want it. The lap times suggest that as well. But as always, tomorrow is another day and there will be work to be done".

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In FP2 Charles Leclerc ended the session with a surprisingly positive fourth time, 0.8 seconds behind the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, but just a few thousandths behind the third position of Lando Norris and only 0.3 seconds behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Clearly, however, it will be necessary to confirm these improvements in qualifying, and especially in the race.

 

"This seemed like a positive day, we'll see. We didn't run much on a lot of fuel and we used prototype tires for 2021 in the first part of the session. It will be a surprise to see what happens on Sunday, but the pace for qualifying is promising. The track is very slippery, but this paradoxically makes things better for us. This track is fantastic, it took us a few laps to get into a rhythm".

 

Sebastian Vettel also managed to set a very competitive time, especially if you take into account the fuel loads and the work of each of the drivers on track. And if Lando Norris hadn't set the third fastest time in the final moments of FP2, Vettel's Ferrari would have made it into the top five.

 

"Portimão is a nice circuit, I like it a lot. And tomorrow I'll be even better: I'll know where to corner (laughs, ed). Of course, it was very slippery because of the new asphalt, but the track is nice. It made a very good impression on me, who was racing there for the first time. This shows that there are many wonderful tracks around the world. The important thing is to know how to choose them in order to have a good calendar".

 

The German also adds some details about the working methods within the team regarding this Friday. One of the curiosities concerns the new bottom of the SF1000, another aspect that Vettel promotes with full marks:

 

"Charles tested it in the morning, I tested it in the afternoon. I have to say that I felt very comfortable".

 

The next day, Valtteri Bottas is still the fastest during FP3. The Finn still lowers the track limit, bringing it to 1'16"654. Lewis Hamilton stops at only 0.026 seconds, but he makes a mistake and goes out at Lagos (turn 3), damaging the front wing. The Mercedes remount the DAS (Dual Axis Steering) device, which had been removed for Friday's free practice. Max Verstappen manages to get to within 0.2 seconds of Bottas, using Medium tires, while, when he switches to Soft tires, he can't improve his performance. Behind the Dutchman follows Pierre Gasly, while fifth is Alexander Albon. The Frenchman of AlphaTauri is forced to use a spare chassis, after the accident on Friday.

 

Ferrari confirms to be competitive: in particular, the SF1000 impresses in the race simulation, revealing that the car seems to have improved with a full tank of petrol. Charles Leclerc is 0.5 seconds off the top, but Ferrari looked for performance before many others, when the track, very variable and still with little grip, was less rubberized. Less well Sebastian Vettel: the session ends prematurely, when the German, coming wide in the trajectory at Sagres (turn 14), blows up a manhole cover. At the end of the practice session, the Williams team is summoned by the stewards because George Russell has crossed the white line at the exit of the pit lane at the moment in which the traffic light of the pit lane has shown the red light. The British driver receives a warning from the FIA.

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Saturday 24 October 2020, due to the need to repair the manhole cover raised, during the last free practice session, by Sebastian Vettel, in the area of the last corner, the start of qualifying must be postponed half an hour later than planned. Once qualifying started, Sergio Perez is the first driver to set a time, before being beaten on arrival by Charles Leclerc. The first one to go under 1'18"0 is Max Verstappen; shortly after, the arrival of the Mercedes overturns the ranking; Valtteri Bottas scores 1'17"064, against the time of 1'17"114 of Lewis Hamilton. Pérez is third, while Gasly is fifth, ahead of the McLarens. Verstappen drops to ninth, also behind Lance Stroll, with the track becoming even faster. Bottas scores 1'16"945, before Verstappen, with 1'16"879, takes the lead. Then it's Hamilton's turn, who improves the limit, in 1'16"828, with a lap however dirtied by a mistake in the third sector of the track.

 

When there are about three minutes to go to the end of the first session, Romain Grosjean improves, enough to get out of the time zone at risk of elimination, while Daniil Kvjat recovers up to twelfth place. Williams driver Nicholas Latifi sees his best time cancelled due to exceeding the track limits. This time would have allowed him to qualify, at least provisionally, for Q2. Kimi Räikkönen beats Grosjean's time, pushing him back into the danger zone. Among the best, Gasly gets the fourth time and Vettel the seventh. Shortly after, George Russell manages to get the fifteenth place and passes to the next phase. The two Alfa Romeo Racing drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, the two Haas drivers, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, and Nicholas Latifi are therefore eliminated from Q2.

 

In Q2 only Mercedes and Ferrari start the session on Medium compound tires. All the other thirteen drivers opt for Soft compound tires. Valtteri Bottas sets a time of 1'16"466, while the two Ferrari drivers choose two consecutive warm up laps, before setting the time. Vettel is tenth while Leclerc is sixth, with Gasly on the same time. Hamilton fails his first attempt, due to the presence of Vettel's car in a corner, while Sergio Pérez and Lando Norris are behind Bottas. Lewis Hamilton then climbs to second place, 0.358 seconds behind Bottas; Esteban Ocon rises to tenth place, thus eliminating, at least for the moment, Stroll. Shortly after, Carlos Sainz Jr. climbs to fifth place, on a track that continues to improve markedly.

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Sebastian Vettel tries a second fast lap, once again using Medium compound tires: he improves but is only fourteenth. The one who improves clearly is Verstappen, now third, who however complains for the low grip of the tires. Leclerc, still on Medium tires, is eighth. Kvjat, Ricciardo and Albon do not improve. In the last moments, Leclerc, Norris and Russell seem to be able to lower their times. The latter gets a better time than Vettel, but not enough to go to Q3. Daniel Ricciardo leaves the track during his last fast lap: his Renault hits the barriers, irreparably damaging the rear wing. The Australian qualifies for the decisive phase, but will not take part to it, due to the impossibility of fixing the car in time. The drivers eliminated at the end of Q2 are Ocon, Stroll, Kvjat, Russell and Vettel.

 

Surprisingly, at the start of the decisive phase, Bottas sets the worst time of his qualifying session, in 1'16"987. Hamilton does even worse, by 0.047 seconds. Third is Charles Leclerc, who is the only driver not to opt for two warm-up laps before the fast lap. They are followed by Pérez and Albon, who is on Medium and not Soft tires. Max Verstappen overtakes Leclerc, placing himself 0.121 seconds behind Bottas. Albon goes for a second consecutive fast lap, improves, but remains seventh. Pierre Gasly has only one set of Soft tires, so he has to limit his Q3 performance to a single fast lap. The Frenchman gets more than one second from Hamilton's time, who is back at the top of the timesheet with 1'16"934. Bottas, fitting Medium tires, takes back the best time again, with 1'16"754.

 

Hamilton makes another fast attempt, which allows him to beat Bottas again and conquer his ninety-seventh pole position in the Formula 1 World Championship. The first row is monopolized by the two Mercedes, for the seventy-third time in the history of the world championship. The second row is for Verstappen and Leclerc. Thanks to his ninth pole position of the season, Hamilton also wins the FIA Pole Trophy, the fifth in his career since the award was introduced in the 2014 season. At the end of qualifying, Sergio Pérez and Pierre Gasly are summoned by the stewards because, specifically, Pérez obstructed Gasly during Q2. The Mexican driver of Racing Point receives a reprimand.

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With qualifying over, Lewis Hamilton is beaming with yet another career pole, allowing him to shoot ahead of everyone in a race that will see him strive to break Michael Schumacher's record of victories, having reached ninety-one:

 

"It's great to see British flags. Fantastic feeling. Today was very tough. We had a great car but there was also a lot to do to put the lap together. Valtteri was in front all weekend. I tried to dig down to find the tenths that were missing. I chose to do the three laps to have a chance to improve further to beat his time. He wanted to do the dry lap, so in the end I chose well. The team communicated very well with us and they gave us the double alternative: soft or medium and dry lap or more laps, since there was time. The Medium tires are very difficult to get up to temperature because they are very hard compounds. Making them work well is difficult, so I wanted to have an extra lap and in the end it helped. The circuit is really hard and pure. In some places you can't see which way you're going. Finding reference points under braking is difficult, it's one of the most difficult tracks I've ever driven on. The asphalt is weird. There are different surfaces and this one is very smooth and doesn't make the tires work in the same way as Barcelona for example. Today was better than the previous days, also thanks to the team that did a great job. I can't tell you how difficult it was today, we have a fantastic car, but you have to push it to the maximum to make the time. Valtteri was really fast this weekend. I tried very hard to close the gap. The team communicated well with us and gave us a choice of what to do: I decided to do three laps to try to beat his time and he chose to do one. I thought it might give me a chance and it worked, as I improved on the final lap. This is a hardcore circuit. There are sections where you can't see where you're going because you can only see the sky and there are no references for braking points. It's one of the most challenging tracks I've been to, especially with this new asphalt that makes it difficult to warm up the tires".

 

Reached by David Coulthard for interviews, Valtteri Bottas certainly cannot be happy with second position. The Finn comments briefly on what happened in qualifying:

 

"It's annoying, very annoying, to accept this result. I was in front on Friday but it doesn't matter, I always try to do a reset after each session, to focus on the next one. The fork, today, was to choose between one or two timed laps at the end: clearly if you choose for one time-attack the car is lighter and the tires wear less. And I opted for that route. But it was the wrong decision, maybe the fact that the track temperature dropped slightly in Q3 had an effect. As soon as I closed my lap, I would have liked one more chance. Obviously in the end we decided to use the Medium tires. They were going a little bit faster than the softs, I don't know for what reason. Lewis did two laps cooling the tires in the meantime. I decided to do just one, it was my choice to go for the dry lap. The ideal would be to start from the clean side of the track, you lose a lot from the dirty side. The final one was a very good lap from my side. But it wasn't perfect: that's the challenge of a track and an asphalt like this. That's the way it is now: at least I know I'll have a very good pace tomorrow. Obviously, I'm a bit disappointed not to be on pole after winning all the free practice sessions, but tomorrow I'll give battle starting from the second position".

 

And Max Verstappen is also rather laconic:

 

"Third place is good for us, it is definitely a good result. But I have to say that my qualifying was strange, because in Q1 I lapped faster than in Q3: the reason is that I didn't have the usual grip. This has been a constant problem over the weekend, the asphalt is slippery and we were forced to follow only one line so that the tires would work. Plus in Q2 and Q3 we had less time to get the tires up to temperature. It was not very pleasant to drive in these conditions: I thought it would be great to drive here with today's Formula 1 cars. But now I can't push, it felt like driving on ice. The fact remains that we got closer to the Mercedes, but we can only say that by looking at the times. We have to see how many problems they had with grip".

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The new bottom and diffuser of the Ferrari SF1000, which completed the upgrade package, proves to be effective. Proof of this is the passage of Q2 for Leclerc with Medium tires, the only one to choose this option apart from the Mercedes drivers. Among the top four, only Verstappen will start on Soft tires, demonstrating how the updates are slowly improving the quality of the SF1000's performance. At the end of qualifying, the Monegasque was clearly satisfied:

 

"Today I am very happy with the work done by the team. I've been saying for four Grands Prix that every time we bring some pieces even if we are not looking for miracles, in front of the television it must be difficult to watch and hear these statements, but small steps make the difference and today we had the confirmation. But it's only qualifying, tomorrow we'll be scoring points and in Germany we saw that we struggle more in the race. But here it went even better because we entered Q3 with the medium tyres, a fact that gives us hope for tomorrow. We are increasing the performance in general. It's not that it's easier to drive, I think the balance is similar, but we are looking and finding more speed. This is positive. Tomorrow it's important to have a clean race because we need to understand where we are. Last race the conditions were different, it was much colder. Tomorrow I haven't looked at the weather yet, I heard it's not going to be great, but we'll see. We need to have a good race and hopefully manage the tires better. The feeling was much more positive this morning".

 

It didn't go as well for Sebastian Vettel, fifteenth in qualifying, also beaten by George Russell's Williams. The German driver's attempt to qualify for Q3 on Medium tires, the same strategy adopted by teammate Charles Leclerc, ended badly. The Ferrari driver was unable to get his Medium tyres up to temperature, finishing Q2 in last place and thus condemning himself to yet another difficult comeback in the race.

 

"There's nothing I can do right now. He's driving at another level. Even if I do a good lap he is still faster. All weekend I struggled a little bit with the Soft tires, we were hoping the medium would work well. The soft tires were always 'opening up' and creating graining, we thought the medium would work better. In the second attempt, however, I was not able to make the tires work well and I was eliminated. Did the wind penalize me? I don't know, maybe a little bit, but it's hard to say because in Q1 we used the soft tyres and in Q2 the medium ones. You can't change anything at the end. Tomorrow will be a difficult day starting so far back, but we will try everything".

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Sunday, October 25, 2020, among the topics of the market-drivers arouses discreet interest in the movement between AlphaTauri and Red Bull regarding Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon. Several times the Frenchman has stated that he wants to have his revenge. However, Helmut Marko confirms that Gasly will remain in AlphaTauri:

 

"Gasly in AlphaTauri is safe, the second driver will be announced at the latest after Bahrain. Albon, as I have repeated many times, just needs more consistency: on some occasions he is within a respectable distance of Max Verstappen, sometimes he is too far away. As long as his growth is positive, he's our guy. We are in no hurry".

 

While waiting, therefore, for the future of Pierre Gasly's new teammate at AlphaTauri to become clear, team and drivers are preparing for the Portuguese Grand Prix, the twelfth race of the 2020 World Championship. The two Mercedes drivers and Charles Leclerc start on Medium tires, while the other drivers in the front rows use Soft tires. Right at the start a light rain starts to fall, affecting the first lap. Lewis Hamilton keeps the lead, while Valtteri Bottas is overtaken by Max Verstappen, but manages, already in the first corners, to regain the second place. Verstappen is attacked by Sergio Pérez, with the two coming into contact: Pérez spins and is forced to pit, while Verstappen gives up several positions. Bottas passes, in the meantime, Hamilton, very slow. Shortly after, Carlos Sainz Jr. arrives on the Mercedes duo and, thanks to the soft tires, takes the lead of the race. The other McLaren, driven by Lando Norris, is fourth, followed by Max Verstappen, Kimi Räikkönen, Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly.

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The Spanish driver keeps the lead until the fifth lap, when he is overtaken by Bottas. The Medium tires, mounted on the Anglo-German cars, start to work better than the Soft tires. In the meantime, Max Verstappen overtakes Norris and conquers the fourth place. On lap six Leclerc passes Ricciardo and on the next lap Sainz Jr. gives way to Hamilton, who is now less than two seconds behind the leader, Bottas. On the eighth pass, Max Verstappen also takes the position from Sainz Jr., while Leclerc ousts Kimi Räikkönen from sixth place. The Alfa Romeo Racing driver gives up several positions in the following laps to faster drivers. The Monegasque then passes Norris as well. On lap 11 Gasly takes seventh place from Norris, while on the following lap Charles Leclerc overtakes Sainz Jr.

 

The classification sees Valtteri Bottas in the lead, followed by Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jr., Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll. Gasly passes Norris, on lap 13. On lap fifteen Ricciardo stops, running Medium compound rubber. Four laps later Stroll tries to overtake Norris, but the two cars come into contact at the first corner and both drivers are forced to stop at the pits. The race direction penalizes the Canadian of Racing Point by five seconds. On the next lap, Hamilton overtakes Bottas for the first place. The Finnish driver fails to find a constant rhythm and immediately loses it to his teammate. On lap 20, Verstappen also stops, opting for Medium tires. On lap 30, Sainz Jr. also pits.

 

Lewis Hamilton widens his lead to eight seconds, while third comes Charles Leclerc, twenty-six seconds behind the Englishman. The first three in the ranking have not yet changed their tires. On lap 34, Pérez, in a fierce duel, overtakes Ocon, who has not yet pitted, for fifth place. Leclerc stops to mount Medium tires on lap thirty-five, while Hamilton waits for the forty-first pass. The next lap is the turn for Bottas. The Mercedes drivers also decide to complete the race on Medium tires. After these stops, the classification still sees Lewis Hamilton first, ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Sergio Pérez, Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo.

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Hamilton again widens the margin on Bottas while, on lap 46, Gasly takes seventh from Ricciardo. On the same lap, Pérez stops for the second time after his pit stop on the first lap. The Mexican is on soft tires. Ocon, who hasn't changed tires yet, waits until the fifty-second lap: he rejoins the track eighth. The Renault driver also decides to use Soft tires. On lap 51, Lance Stroll retires due to a technical issue.

 

The rain is still making its appearance on the track, but the intensity of the precipitation is very weak. What disturbs the drivers the most is the wind. In the last laps, Hamilton and Bottas duel, but only for the additional point given by the fast lap, since the reigning World Champion leads with a wide margin. With just a few laps to go, both Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz Jr. approach Pérez, who is now in crisis with his tires. Both pass the Mexican of Racing Point, even if the Frenchman of AlphaTauri is rudely closed by Pérez, in his first attempt to overtake.

 

Lewis Hamilton conquers his ninety-second victory in the Formula 1 World Championship, setting a new record of Grand Prix wins in the history of the world championship. Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen complete the podium. At the end of the race, Sergio Pérez and Pierre Gasly are summoned by the stewards because of a maneuver considered dangerous by Pérez, in defending himself from an overtaking attempt by Gasly. The Mexican driver of Racing Point receives a reprimand. Charles Leclerc, in his SF1000, finishes fourth, followed by Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri, Carlos Sainz Jr., Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo, and Sebastian Vettel, tenth at the finish.

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As soon as he got out of his car, Lewis Hamilton was joined by journalists. The British driver, who managed to break Michael Schumacher's record of victories, first of all thanks all the men working in the Mercedes team in Great Britain:

 

"I owe everything to the guys in the factory and here at the track. They always push the bar higher. It is a privilege to work with them, the reliability is incredible. Everyone always keeps pushing, they don't sit on their laurels. That's the most special thing to be surrounded by, it's inspiring. This collaboration is something I have never experienced before. Today was a difficult race because of the temperatures. They said it was going to rain shortly after the start. I had a good start but in Turn 7 I had oversteer. I lifted my foot, I preferred not to defend myself, to let Valtteri pass and then try to react afterwards. I was able to recover afterwards, fortunately. Sport is very physical. I had a cramp in my calf and I had to lift the pedal in the straight because it hurt. But I managed to go through, you have to grit your teeth. I could only dream of this finish. When I chose to help this team I couldn't imagine what would happen. Every day we work together pushing everyone in the same direction. There's my dad, my foster mom, Roscoe, she's special to me. 92 wins? It will take time to absorb what I've been able to do. I'm going to keep pushing. This is something I struggle to find the words for".

 

Second across the line, Valtteri Bottas is not overly disappointed with the defeat he suffered in favour of his teammate:

 

"The first lap was pretty good. There was a bit of rain that made the situation treacherous. The cars behind on soft tires had an advantage but I managed to go well. But then after those first few laps I had no pace today, I don't know why. I tried to defend myself from Lewis. But he had another pace today, I couldn't do much. I don't know why I wasn't going, we'll have to figure it out. I pushed hard but I couldn't go faster. Soft at the end? I was hoping to go longer so I could fit them but I don't think they would have made a difference at the end".

 

Max Verstappen, third in his Red Bull, couldn't do anything else to counter the two Mercedes drivers:

 

"We didn't have that much grip at the start. I tried to stay out of trouble. Then I touched with Sergio but he didn't give me any room. It was raining, so I just tried to keep the car on the track. Then everything stabilized. I also talked about it with the pits, I don't know why I didn't have grip on the first lap. I did my race, I switched to the medium tires, I had more pace but the gap was now too big. I think the medium tire was the best tire today. Probably if I had started with the medium tyre I could have gone better, but this was the position we deserved today".

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Starting fourth, Charles Leclerc was able to maintain his position, leading Ferrari to a dignified fourth place. A small step forward, compared to the recent past:

 

"It was definitely the best Ferrari of the season. At the beginning, because of the rain, I struggled a lot, but we remained patient and our calm paid off. When the tire came up to temperature I was able to push and recover all the positions I lost. At a certain point I even hoped to aim for the podium, but the ground lost at the beginning of the race proved to be decisive, also because Max Verstappen was very fast at the end of the race".

 

A performance diametrically opposed to that of two weeks earlier, in Germany:

 

"We had done very well in qualifying but struggled a lot in the race and today we were waiting for some answers. We got them and they are positive. I'm very happy and proud of the team's work. Very encouraging. We are working in the right way. It won't happen that suddenly, with a new car, the gap to Mercedes will be cancelled. We have to keep getting closer step by step. I am happy".

 

In the drivers' standings Leclerc manages to climb to fifth position, five points behind Daniel Ricciardo, only ninth in Portimao. In the constructors' standings Ferrari is sixth with 93 points, sixteen more than the 77 of Alpha Tauri, seventh. A little more disappointed remains Sebastian Vettel, only tenth at the finish line in his SF1000:

 

"I don't know if the pace was that good. It was difficult for me, I suffered some ups and downs, with some laps going well and others not. I have to say that I have struggled a lot, in general everything this year has been very difficult. I'm having a hard time putting things together in terms of set-up, while for Leclerc things seem to be going well. The first lap - in particular - was very complicated for everyone, especially for us. We couldn't have confidence in the tires, then we recovered but we can't be happy with tenth place. If the car has improved? I don't know. The updates we have brought are not big improvements but small things. It's more or less the same car compared to the beginning of the year. Maybe this track was a bit more suitable for us for some reason. We were here with maximum aerodynamic load, which suits this car. Does Leclerc drive beyond the problems? I don't think so. I think he's doing very well but I don't feel like he's hiding the problems with the car. He's very fast and seems at ease when he pushes: if I push, instead, most of the times the car goes off the track. I'm trying all of them and I'll keep on trying, but even though I'm working a lot we can't find solutions with the engineers. I don't have many other options, I have to keep persevering trying to give my best".

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At the start of the Grand Prix, Carlos Sainz Jr. managed to impose himself on Lewis Hamilton, also taking advantage of the favorable weather conditions. Then, however, he had to desist when the British driver returned:

 

"At the start Lewis braked early and I almost crashed into him, and then I grabbed him. I showed him the front nose to make him nervous and he missed the apex and I passed him. I think showing him the nose of the car helped".

 

But the rest of the Grand Prix was not easy for the Spanish driver:

 

"We were struggling with the left front that had a lot more graining. I think the cause was the track temperature. We didn't know there would be all this graining, we have to keep investigating why. We could have finished fourth or fifth in a normal race. We have five races to go and more updates to bring in. We will continue to push".

 

On the other hand, Lando Norris is disappointed and bitter, put out of action by an extreme manoeuvre by Lance Stroll, who tried to perform an improbable overtaking on the outside:

 

"At the start Mercedes and Leclerc were on medium and struggling. We took more risks in the initial lap. We started well, taking the right risks. Then we started to struggle because of the graining on the front. At that point, our pace dropped a lot, especially compared to those who were on medium. But we were having a good race, others who had started with soft tyres had also suffered because of the rain and the graining. We had no luck. Lance? I don't know what he was doing. He went left, I didn't know exactly where he was. Then he came alongside and turned against me. He didn't learn from Friday. But he never seems to learn from anything. That happens a lot with him. Next time I need to stay away from him".

 

October 25, 2020 is a date that goes down in motorsports history. Lewis Hamilton has pulled the record away from Michael Schumacher: now no one has the same number of victories as the Briton in Formula 1. With the victory in Portimão, Hamilton rises to ninety-two successes. For the Mercedes driver, the ninety-second triumph was authoritative: Valtteri Bottas' resistance was repelled and a difficult start was redeemed.

 

Hamilton started from pole position but at the start he lost two positions due to the poor performance of the yellow tire on a damp track. And so he had to rethink his race from the third place. In short, at least for the moment, it seems that nothing can stop the British champion, who is now one step away from his seventh world title. And this would be a record as well.

 

Anthony Quartey

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