Why the ‘third-quickest’ team may be the true pace-setters in Portugal

Lap time watch: 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix

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After topping the final practice session with a lap of 1’18.489, Max Verstappen and Red Bull looked in good shape for qualifying.

But in a gusty session on a track which still lacks grip since its resurfacing last year, neither RB16B driver was able to better that time.

Verstappen nearly did: He stopped the clocks at 1’18.209 on his first run in Q3. Had that stood, it would have put him on pole position. But it didn’t.

“Max’s first run in Q3 was quick enough for pole,” said team principal Christian Horner, “but unfortunately his lap was deleted for track limits after a gust of wind at turn four unsettled the car, causing him to run only millimetres wide.”

Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Autodromo do Algarve, 2021
Alpine were fourth-quickest – behind Red Bull – thanks to Ocon
He fell foul of the track limits restrictions at one of five corners on the circuit which are now being policed. Though Verstappen still had one run left, the track conditions seemed to deteriorate towards the end of Q3, as several other drivers did not improve their times. Nor did it help matters that Verstappen had to pick his way past traffic. His final effort was over half a second shy of his deleted time.

Sergio Perez slotted in close behind him, but neither Red Bull driver had beaten Verstappen’s benchmark from qualifying. Drivers from two other teams did, however: The Mercedes pair, who swept the front row of the grid, and McLaren’s Lando Norris, though he only managed it in Q2. He was over six-tenths away from that in Q3, and lines up seventh.

So while Red Bull may well have the quickest car at Autodromo do Algarve, Mercedes have beaten them to pole position, and McLaren were fractionally faster during qualifying, if not when it really counted.

Alpine are enjoying their best weekend of the year so far. Esteban Ocon put them sixth on the grid and set the fourth-fastest time of any team though, like Norris, he did it in Q2.

He was thrilled with the team’s progress after their best showing in terms of outright pace so far this year.

“We were definitely not happy on Friday,” said Ocon. “But waking up this morning with the changes overnight that we’ve done, it was a huge step.

“The car felt night-and-day from the day before. We just made little adjustments for qualifying. It’s that kind of mentality that is helping us to perform and helping us to improve at the moment. Well done to everyone in both Enstone and Viry, because I think the hard work is paying off on the performance levels so far.”

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Every team lapped at least a second slower at the Algarve circuit than they did last year. But only one, AlphaTauri, were over two seconds down on their 2020 time.

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Based on the the three tracks F1 has visited so far this year, the cars are on average 1.3 seconds per lap slower than in 2020.

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2021 Portuguese Grand Prix

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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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12 comments on “Why the ‘third-quickest’ team may be the true pace-setters in Portugal”

  1. If HAM makes no mistakes and keeps the car on (the slippery) track, his 1:17:968 on (M) in Q2 makes me think this could be an easy win for him. The Red Bulls might have seemed faster on (S), but the race will be won on (M) and possibly (H), if there is no early safety car.

    1. @daniboyf1 how does Max’s deleted pole lap fit into that prediction?

      1. It doesn’t! He went off-track and gained an unfair advantage. As soon as he kept the car on-track he was 0.3sec slower.

        1. He did not gain an advantage…the wind pushed him out and he had a big snap which would have cost time.

          1. The rules and the stewards say different. But you are free to make a change in this world!

          2. @mg1982

            The rules only say that he wasn’t allowed to do that. Rules do not determine facts like these.

    2. BOT, VER, HAM, LEC, PER after turn 1. The right side of the grid will lose out at the start as was the case in 2020. Pit stops will be interesting, is the overcut more powerful considering track conditions?

  2. It just cost Mercedes two races to get back in their dominant position given the delay they encountered in winter testing. We had high hopes for a good season which unfortunately lasted just two races.

    1. They have been on top of the drivers and constructors championship ever since the season started.

      1. That too. Even when struggling still on top. Stellar job but borefest for us.

  3. Mercedes lockout the front row and articles are written about how they are actually not the fastest car.

    They have 2 poles in three races and 1 win in 2 and they are not the fastest car. Give us a break from this nonsense. Even the designated wingman has a pole to his name.

    The narrative of how Ham won the 2021 title in a slower car is being spun.

    Reply moderated
    1. I am getting tired with the media falling for the obvious traps by Liberty and Mercedes too. It’s almost like they never heard of Marketing.

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