Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Autodromo do Algarve, 2020

Extent of Mercedes’ lead unclear after disrupted practice on low-grip track

2020 Portuguese Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Two points came back consistently in the F1 drivers’ feedback from their first two practice sessions at Autodromo do Algarve.

First: The unusual layout, in particularly its steep drops and high climbs, makes from an invigorating departure from the norm, such as largely flat circuits like Sochi.

Second: The track surface offers very little grip. Which, in that respect, is quite similar to the home of the Russian Grand Prix.

So much so that some teams expect drivers will have to do extra laps to prepare their tyres during qualifying. “Hopefully we’ll see the grip come up a bit tomorrow but it’s quite far off the first timed lap today,” said Renault’s chief race engineer Ciaron Pilbeam.

“So I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s still some prep laps out there tomorrow. It tends to come to you a bit during qualifying but I think it’s quite a long way off the first timed lap today, so we might see some prep laps tomorrow which is a bit of a new thing. I don’t think we’ve seen that for a while now.”

Curiously, teams found they were able to get better initial grip on the hard tyre in first practice. However the track surface may improve quickly as the cars lay more rubber tomorrow and into the race.

Two significant disruptions in second practice meant we didn’t get a completely clear picture of how competitive the various teams are. But there’s little reason to doubt Mercedes are the team to beat as usual. Valtteri Bottas topped both sessions while Lewis Hamilton tried a different set-up direction in the afternoon and discovered it was not the way to go.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo do Algarve, 2020
Could Verstappen bag a front row starting spot?
But just how close Red Bull might be is an intriguing question. They have narrowed the gap to Mercedes in recent races, whether that’s due to the ban on qualifying modes or the usual progress they make over the course of a season.

Around an 85 second lap of the Nurburgring, Red Bull were less than two-tenths of a second away from Mercedes two weeks ago. They were particularly strong in the slow first sector, and Algarve has more low-speed corners. Lap times at the Portuguese track are already under 78 seconds, so perhaps we will see an even closer contest for pole position this weekend.

Fortunately for Verstappen, he doesn’t have a grid penalty to contend with following his collision with Lance Stroll in second practice.

Ferrari began the weekend well following the latest update to their SF1000. Encouragingly for Sebastian Vettel, he ended the day only three-tenths of a second behind Charles Leclerc, which is better than he’s managed in recent races.

Meanwhile AlphaTauri, who are entertaining hopes of beating Ferrari to sixth in the constructors’ championship, had a difficult start to the weekend. Pierre Gasly had technical problems in both sessions, and it remains to be seen whether his fire in second practice will require the addition of new power unit parts and lead to a penalty.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Valtteri BottasMercedes1’18.4101’17.94067
2Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’19.1911’18.53566
3Lando NorrisMcLaren-Renault1’20.2071’18.74364
4Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’18.7491’19.30862
5Charles LeclercFerrari1’19.3091’18.83867
6Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren-Renault1’19.4411’19.11374
7Sebastian VettelFerrari1’20.2001’19.17571
8Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’20.1241’19.17855
9Alexander AlbonRed Bull-Honda1’19.3651’19.64371
10Esteban OconRenault1’21.6731’19.49663
11George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’21.3741’19.82164
12Sergio PerezRacing Point-Mercedes1’19.9071’19.90165
13Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’19.9541’20.49069
14Daniel RicciardoRenault1’20.0581’19.98755
15Daniil KvyatAlphaTauri-Honda1’20.2781’20.72965
16Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’22.0541’20.46567
17Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’20.8461’20.68057
18Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’21.1691’20.86763
19Lance StrollRacing Point-Mercedes1’20.9541’20.98358
20Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’21.0091’21.39669

Fastest sector times – second practice

DriverCarSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Valtteri BottasMercedes22.50329.97825.459
Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda22.73430.16525.636
Lando NorrisMcLaren-Renault22.63430.27825.831
Charles LeclercFerrari22.85730.24625.575
Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren-Renault22.7530.22826.058
Sebastian VettelFerrari22.96930.27925.775
Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda22.73730.43325.848
Lewis HamiltonMercedes22.6230.25226.02
Esteban OconRenault23.06430.44125.946
Alexander AlbonRed Bull-Honda22.90430.43426.13
George RussellWilliams-Mercedes23.1330.81725.874
Sergio PerezRacing Point-Mercedes23.31330.46526.123
Daniel RicciardoRenault23.13530.85625.996
Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes23.13130.81726.517
Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari23.30331.03726.15
Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari23.34830.86226.47
Daniil KvyatAlphaTauri-Honda22.96530.51826.217
Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari23.46830.9626.396
Lance StrollRacing Point-Mercedes23.18630.82826.333
Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari23.57830.9726.096

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    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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