Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton managed his race brilliantly to win a second consecutive Portuguese Grand Prix at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimão. The winner of a historic 92nd Grand Prix title when the race was held at the same racetrack (for the first time) last year, Hamilton finished the 2020 season with a seventh world championship title – equalling Michael Schumacher’s tally.
His latest win in the Algarve was the Mercedes star’s 97th F1 triumph, and extended his lead in this year’s driver’s championship, although it is still early days as only the third race of a 23-event schedule until December.
Hamilton started second on the grid but had dropped to third behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at the safety car restart on lap seven. Gradually, he fought back, passing Verstappen four laps later, snatching the lead from Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas (who started on pole) on the 20th of 66 laps, and holding on for victory.
Sergio Perez secured his best result of the year (fourth) as the second Red Bull driver, ahead of Lando Norris (McLaren), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), and Alpine pair Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso. Filling out the top-10 were Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) and Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri).
Hamilton thus stretched his lead to eight points in the title battle against Verstappen (69 to 61), with both having finished all three races of 2021 either first or second: Hamilton won the opener in Bahrain and Verstappen the second race in Italy. Norris is a distant third on the podium (37 points). All the drivers and constructors teams now head to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for the Spanish Grand Prix on 9 May.
After successfully defending his Portuguese title, Hamilton said, “That was such a tough race, physically and mentally, just keeping everything together. It was very windy out there, obviously, so it was easy to put a foot wrong.
“I didn’t quite get as good a start as Valtteri, then lost out on the restart which was not good. I was not happy about that, naturally. But that race was satisfying, when you’re in third and have to overtake two amazing drivers – amazing! Having races like that is what I live for.
“The gap between us all is so close and every single point is going to count this year. I love the battle, I’ve loved it since my days in karting, and as a team we can’t leave any stone unturned – we’ve got to continue to push this car, squeeze everything out of it.”
Added team principal Toto Wolff, “Absolutely stunning drive from Lewis and it seemed under control all through the race. You could see, and hear in his voice, how much he was pushing. An incredible drive. Valtteri had some real pace at the beginning and you could see that it was difficult for Lewis to catch up, it was real speed. But then eventually Lewis managed to get past and off he went.”
Verstappen was understandably more rueful. “Something about this track really does not suit our car and I think in general this was a bit of an off weekend in terms of grip and overall pace. We knew last year that we weren’t particularly strong here, so this year has been a bit better and we managed to finish ahead of one Mercedes, but it wasn’t quite good enough to get them both. Nevertheless, second is still a pretty good result and we always knew this season would be up and down in terms of the tracks we were strong at and the ones Mercedes were.”
His team principal, Christian Horner, was keen to focus on the next race and the rest of the season. “Looking at today we can see that this championship is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. It’s so tight and it’s going to be all about marginal gains. Max drove the wheels off the car again today, snatching second from Mercedes, and it’s super tight between him and Lewis.”