Alpine impress, AlphaTauri “far too slow” on low-grip Algarve track

2021 Portuguese Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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After Friday’s sessions, Mercedes and Red Bull look as strong as expected but the midfield order has been shaken up by a rising Alpine and struggling AlphaTauri.

Valtteri Bottas led the way in the opening session while Lewis Hamilton struggled to find the right temperature window on a cold track surface and finished fifth.

But the warmer afternoon session, however, saw the other Mercedes hit the top of the times, while Bottas was behind a consistently rapid Max Verstappen. Sergio Perez was third in first practice and only some problems in the afternoon session, including getting blocked on a fast lap, prevented him being more competitive in the second.

In terms of outright lap time, Alpine seem to have found the pace which has previously eluded them. The team long planned to bring aerodynamic updates to this weekend’s race. They appear to have paid off considerably.

At Imola, neither A521 was able to make the top 10 in second practice but at the Portuguese Grand Prix, they split the Ferraris for fifth and sixth place in the same session. More significantly than their place in the order, Fernando Alonso was just 0.013 seconds away from Carlos Sainz Jnr in second practice having been a second away two weeks ago.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Autodromo do Algarve, 2021
Alpine looked in great shape on Friday
Moving around the order less positively are both McLaren and AlphaTauri. McLaren have been a bit up and down in practice sessions this season – and were at Algarve last year too, before a strong qualifying performance by both Lando Norris and then-team mate Sainz. But they haven’t looked especially competitive on any tyre compound or stint length this weekend.

AlphaTauri, meanwhile, seemed to lose their way between sessions. In the morning Pierre Gasly placed himself sixth and within a second of Bottas’ time. But both cars seemed off the pace in the afternoon, which doesn’t bode well for qualifying, which is likely to take place in similar conditions.

“We are far too slow,” team principal Franz Tost admitted. “We still don’t understand exactly why we haven’t performed so well.”

George Russell, who was seventh-fastest behind Gasly in the morning session, said that despite coming only 13th in the afternoon, he was encouraged overall and doesn’t expect similar problems on Saturday.

“The wind really picked up in the afternoon and it is no secret that we struggle in those conditions,” he explained. “I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver, but if the wind dies down we will improve and I think [second practice] was the worst of it this weekend.”

Tyres are tricky at this circuit. Although F1 came to the Autodromo do Algarve last season, it’s only really been just over six months since then and with motorsport events and track days both sparse, there hasn’t been as much change to the resurfaced Tarmac as one might expect even in that short a period of a normal year. It’s maybe something for teams – and Pirelli – to bear in mind, now Istanbul is back on the calendar.

Alpine said this morning that they had looked to Moto GP’s event here to see how much the grip had improved since 2020, expecting a small but significant improvement. Drivers across pretty much all the teams reported little improvement. “Visually the Tarmac looks better this year and doesn’t have that shine, or as much,” said Daniel Ricciardo. “But actually the grip wasn’t really better, it’s still very slick out here.”

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Valtteri BottasMercedes1’19.6481’20.18158
2Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’19.6731’19.98048
3Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’19.9671’19.83764
4Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda1’19.8461’20.51649
5Charles LeclercFerrari1’19.8841’20.36059
6Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’20.6801’20.19759
7Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’21.3031’20.22061
8Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’20.8001’20.23557
9Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’20.9951’20.41860
10Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’20.8941’20.42759
11Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’20.4441’20.55864
12George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’20.5291’20.97660
13Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’20.6351’20.75753
14Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda1’21.0901’21.05360
15Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’21.4051’21.07462
16Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’21.3811’21.22546
17Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’21.23832
18Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’21.9391’21.53757
19Callum IlottAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’21.80621
20Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’22.2931’21.85559
21Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari1’24.2241’22.63856

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2021 Portuguese Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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8 comments on “Alpine impress, AlphaTauri “far too slow” on low-grip Algarve track”

  1. Sounds like the track should evolve as each session goes along and it rubbers in.

    If that’s the case I expect we’ll see the usual stupidity at the end of each qualifying session where every team waits until the same last possible moment and they all trip over themselves so most don’t get a clean lap at all.

  2. Not impressed by Hamilton and Verstappen saying that tyres are bad for this event. I want the FIA to be more flexible with the tyre rules but I don’t want to hear that they are too hard or too soft.

  3. It’s called free practise. Their results are always without significance.

  4. daniil! (@kvyatdeservesadrive)
    1st May 2021, 6:20

    daniil is better than tsunoda. he deserved the seat more.

    1. Daniil had numerous chances to impress. He was mediocre at best…

      1. @Sony Indeed.

  5. I wonder how the teams would react if they got the 2010 Bridgestones now. There was never a discussion about tyres then (except Canada). I remember Webber said that one set could do 2 race distances in one of his post race press meets. Vettel did the full Monza race on soft tyres.

    Would be great to have a test of fitting those tyres to a current car and seeing the time difference

    1. First Bridgestone would have to build a tyre to the current dimensions, as the pre-2017 tyres were substantially narrower than today’s tyres.
      I don’t think they would offer the same peak grip as the Pirellis would, but possibly be more consistent.
      But let’s not forget Bridgestone had the advantage of two tyre wars with unlimited testing to improve their product (’97-’98, 2001-2006). Pirelli never had that kind of testing opportunities.

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