F1 – Portuguese GP – Race
Olá, MiniFans! Portugal welcomed us back with open arms 24 years after the last race here but we landed in Portimão instead of Estoril. Overtaking doesn’t seem like the easiest of feats, with just one very clear corner to get past the car in front, yet that still doesn’t deter us from putting all our faith on Verstappen to try and break the Mercedes dominance. The lack of a full practice session dedicated to testing long tyre stints – due to a half-hour blind test for Pirelli and several red flags in FP2 – made it so that the three drivers that started on mediums in the top ten would be almost blind as to whether they’d use softs or hard for their second compound.
A long patch of different asphalt worried drivers when faced with the start, as it could take up the right tyres of those on even numbered spaces. That wouldn’t matter at all, as they managed to place their cars so that it wouldn’t affect them too much, but the start was complete mayhem anyway. It started raining just as they were going through the first lap and a spin by Pérez after a small collision with Verstappen only confused the drivers more. Sainz struck gold, managing to avoid the small crash and taking advantage of his soft tyres working better with the slightly damp track in order to settle himself as the leader of the race for a handful of laps, until both Mercedes and Verstappen managed to catch up to him and regain their rightful places. Raikkonen came out of left field, surprising everyone and managing to get up to sixth for almost the same amount of time Sainz was first, being eventually overtaken by Leclerc. Hamilton’s early mistake during the short-lived droplets allowed Bottas to overtake him and stay in front when the race was getting back to normal and drivers were regaining their usual positions.
Track limits started to be enforced early on in the race, as Stroll got a black and white flag for using the outside of the track, and cars were only able to overtake in turn 1, after the DRS zone, which gave a bit more air to Sainz in order to claim the ‘best of the rest’ trophy. First stops came through without notable incidents following many complaints of front left soft tyres being dead or close to not working anymore and graining even on medium tyres. Stroll, losing his mind behind Norris due to being faster and not being able to overtake him, threw himself blindly to the outside of turn 1 and trying to complete the corner as if Norris wasn’t on the inside, spinning and braking both his and Norris’ front wings, which granted him an investigation by the stewards. This eventually granted the Canadian driver a 5-second penalty for causing a collision. Meanwhile, Hamilton and Gasly cleanly overtook Bottas and Sainz respectively.
A message by Sainz made it clear that the threat rain was on the horizon again – but spectators know better than to expect its arrival – and no more stops were seen for a while, with the main exception of Verstappen, who made a bet on mediums lasting almost two thirds of the race. More track limits penalties came out in the form of a black and white flag for Grosjean and another 5-second penalty for Stroll, as he had already been warned. Ferrari fitted hard tyres on Leclerc with less than half the race to go, whereas Stroll got softs. Hamilton, who had complained on the radio about tyres in the beginning stages of the race, was now claiming they felt great, but was called into the pits for hard tyres. His teammate, being told as such and asked for softs, yet was given another set of hards, copying the world champion. The fight in the last third of the race was clearly between the midfielders, as the top four looked pretty much set in stone.
The last of the mandatory pit stops was Ocon’s doing, to whom Renault gave softs during an extremely slow tyre change, as black and white flags came out left and right due to exceeding track limits. Despite this decision, Ocon was rendered unable to overtake Sainz, while his teammate kept up with him in a set of medium tyres he had fitted on his car very near to the start of the race. With two laps to go, Gasly and Sainz caught up to Pérez, who defended his position fiercely, but it wasn’t enough and granted him an investigation for his change of direction during braking. At the front, the podium and fourth place had been set in stone for the most part of the race and remained as such.
Just seeing the grid and the positions after the checkered flag, it might seem as if the race was mostly just a parade of cars, and one might not be mistaken if they missed the initial ten or so laps of the race. Up until that point, mayhem ran freely thanks to a confusing first lap in which just about enough rain came down to catch them all unaware. Sainz led the race for a couple of laps, rendering the Spanish commentators hoarse, and the first handful of laps were reserved to the natural order getting back on the track. Once settled, the few overtakes that were seen all happened in the same place and thanks to DRS, but the looming threat of rain made it so strategies weren’t clear and risks needed to be taken. Hamilton managed to write his name yet again on the history books, placing himself as the driver with the most number of victories in F1 history right before we come back to Imola.