F1 Portugal grand prix: Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen separated by just a point, Daniel Ricciardo out to improve

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Following two action-packed races, Formula One fans have high anticipation this season will be one of the most thrilling and dramatic in recent memory. 

Round three of the season heads to the Portuguese coastal town of Portimao this weekend, with several talking points set to dominate.

From the battle at the front of the grid to the struggle for points by the back markers, this what to look out for this weekend at the Portuguese grand prix. 

Ricciardo’s chance to avenge Imola

Daniel Ricciardo says he wants to leave Portugal with a positive result, after being outclassed by his teammates in the opening rounds of the season.

McLaren’s newest driver has finished seventh and sixth respectively in the opening two rounds of the season, but has played second-fiddle to young Briton Lando Norris.

Norris has been exceptional to start the 2021 season, with a fourth at Bahrain and a third-place finish at Imola.

The young Briton is currently third in the driver’s standings, 29 points ahead of Ricciardo.

There was plenty of excitement around Ricciardo’s move to McLaren from Renault, but he is yet to settle in the new car.

The Australian said his goal this week was to see progress in his driving and continue his run of points finishes.

“I want to keep building on the progress we’ve made in the first two races and put what we learned at Imola into practice,” he said. 

“There are a few elements I’m still trying to get to grips with, which is only going to get better with more time behind the wheel.

“Seeing Lando achieve a podium showed the potential of the car, which is super motivating.”

Lando Norris on the podium
McLaren’s Lando Norris celebrates his third place finish at Imola.(

Reuters: Jennifer Lorenzini

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The difference in speed between the two was evident in the last race at Imola, when the McLaren team asked Ricciardo to let Norris pass him early in the race.

The Australian played the team game but will not want this to be a recurring theme as he tries to return to the top of the podium — something he has not done since he left Red Bull in 2018.

In an interview with Australian lifestyle publication EFMT, he said it was his job to get “up to speed” with the car and ensure he was fast enough in the race so his team did not need to make that call again.

“I acknowledge that basically I wasn’t quick enough, and I think I’m my biggest critic,” he said.

“If I was quick enough I would have pulled away and not been in that position.”

Daniel Ricciardo drives at Imola
Daniel Ricciardo struggled for pace during the second grand prix of the year at Imola.(

Reuters: Guglielmo Mangiapane

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Portugal provides Ricciardo with a new opportunity to show his ability in a car his teammate has shown can compete near the front of the grid.

However, the track in the Portuguese town of Portimao was not kind to the Australian in 2020.

Ricciardo, driving for Renault, finished ninth and behind then-teammate Esteban Ocon.

However, the Australian said he was excited about the challenge of Portimao.

“There’s a good mixture of high- and low-speed corners with various changes in elevation that make it an exciting challenge,” he said. 

“Coming out of some of the turns, you can really feel your stomach drop with the steep changes in gradient.” 

Red Bull and Mercedes gear up

A Formula One driver aims his fingers at an unimpressed rival on the podium after a grand prix race.
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have shared victories in the first two races of the season.(

Reuters: Bernadett Szabo

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The opening two races of the season were as exciting as any in recent memory and set up a thrilling season for the driver’s and constructor’s world titles.

With one win each, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are separated by just one point at the top of the driver’s standings.

Verstappen, and his Red Bull team, appear set to give Mercedes their greatest challenge in the hybrid era.

But Red Bull boss Christian Horner says Mercedes should be favourites heading into this weekend’s race in Portugal, and the following weekend’s race in Spain.

“They are both great tracks but circuits we would expect to play to Mercedes’ strengths, based on last year’s data,” he wrote on the team’s website.

Lewis Hamilton won the Portuguese and Spanish grand prix last year, with his teammate Valtteri Bottas also finishing on the podium both times.

Hamilton has won the Spanish grand prix every year since 2017.

Verstappen was the last driver to win the Spanish grand prix — winning in 2016 in what was his first race Red Bull after switching mid-season from Toro Rosso.

Horner said if Red Bull could be competitive over the next two weekends, they should be well placed to challenge for the world title in 2021.

“If we can put Mercedes under a little bit of pressure at these tracks then that bodes well for the rest of the year,” he wrote.

“I always said it would take four races to get a clear picture of form, so now is the acid test.”

Drivers brace for the ‘roller-coaster’ of Portimao

Formula One held its first race at Portimao — officially known as the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve — last October. 

It is a track is riddled with sharp changes in elevations, with drivers flying downhill into turn one only to be racing back up the hill in a matter of seconds. 

There are several tracks with huge changes in elevation, but Portimao differs as drivers go up and downhill several times a lap. 

The biggest issue this gives drivers and teams concerns traction and stability of the car during corners, especially when exiting a corner heading downwards.

Turn 11 for example, has the steepest decline in gradient on the track, at 16 metres, and the car will want to go straight rather than finish the corner. 

“It doesn’t because of gravity and down force, but the drivers still feel a noticeable lack of grip, and this can make the car more unstable,” the Mercedes team explains on their website. 

“It also makes traction trickier, so there is a delay with the drivers getting the power down.”

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During steep declines, only gravity and the down force of the car prevent it from becoming airborne. 

However, during these moments the tyres have less grip, which can cause the cars to spin off the track if the driver steps on the throttle too early coming out of a corner. 

The team describes Portimao as a “roller-coaster”, which challenges the drivers’ abilities in the cockpit. 

Some corners on the track are “blind” to the driver, meaning they cannot get a clear view of it before they arrive. 

“The undulations create some blind corner apexes, including Turns 8, 11 and 13,” Mercedes F1 wrote.

“This makes it tougher for them to see the entries to the corners and create reference points for braking and turning in.”

George Russell seeks redemption after Imola

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George Russell smashes into Valtteri Bottas causing a big collision at Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

It was the major talking point at the end of round two — George Russell and Bottas coming together in a crash that stopped the race.

The high-speed collision led to Williams driver Russell jumping out of his car and confronting Bottas, still sitting in the cockpit.

The crash ended what was an awful weekend for Bottas, who was never on the pace despite being in the Mercedes.

For Russell, it extinguished his team’s best chance at scoring a point since the 2019 German grand prix.

Russell’s confrontation after the incident raised plenty of eyebrows and resulted in the young driver offering an apology on social media a day after the race.

“Emotions can run high in the heat of the moment and … mine got the better of me,” he posted on Twitter.

“I’ve learned some tough lessons … and will come out of this a better driver and a better person for the experience.”

Russell also apologised to Bottas for the incident, after initially blaming the Finn for the crash, asking him, “are you trying to kill us both?”

Portugal provides Russell with his next chance at trying to secure the elusive world championship points the team is desperate for.

Williams have finished last in the past two seasons and would be desperate to even climb one position up the standings — and secure the extra financial rewards for finishing higher than other teams.

Canadian grand prix cancelled again

Mandatory 14-day quarantine across Canada has led to the cancellation of the grand prix in Montreal, Formula One has announced.

The round seven weekend will now be held at Istanbul in Turkey, marking the second-straight year Canada will miss out on a race.

 “I want to thank the promoter and authorities in Canada for all of their efforts in recent weeks but the travel situation made our plans impossible,” F1 president Stefano Dominical said.

“While it is disappointing we cannot be in Canada this season we are excited to confirm that Turkey will host a Grand Prix in 2021 after an amazing race last season.”

Turkey was added to the Formula One calendar last season after a nine-year absence, with Lewis Hamilton producing one of the drives of the season to win.

Hamilton’s victory secured his seventh world title but did it the hard way, starting from sixth on the grid.

New bitumen, rain and cold temperatures made life difficult for drivers, who had to fight each lap just to keep their car on the track.

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