Portuguese Grand Prix: Five things to look out for from Ferrari’s resurgence to Russell’s redemption

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton leads Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the drivers’ championship by only one point

Hannah Jane Prydderch
Friday 30 April 2021 15:21
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French driver Charles Leclerc driving for Ferrari
French driver Charles Leclerc driving for Ferrari

As the championship battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen heats up, Formula One gets underway at the Portuguese Grand Prix this weekend.

Mercedes and Red Bull look set to lock horns once again and with McLaren and Ferrari closing the gap to the leading duo, it could be another weekend of exhilarating racing.

Here, we look ahead to the five things you should look out for in Portugal.

Red Bull’s championship to lose?

Verstappen’s victory last time out in Imola sees the Dutchman sit only one point behind reigning champion Hamilton, as Mercedes’ undisputed position as the quickest on the grid has come to an end.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton cruised to his record-breaking 92nd victory at the circuit last year following Verstappen getting caught up in an incident with current team-mate Sergio Perez. Yet as long as the 23-year-old can avoid such a dramatic opening lap this time around, it could be Verstappen who leaves the Algarve International Circuit at the top of the standings.

Norris and Ricciardo fight for No1

British sensation Lando Norris put on a mature performance in Imola to take only his second Formula One podium and laid down the gauntlet to his new McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

Many expected Ricciardo to immediately eclipse Norris and firmly set himself up as McLaren’s number one driver. However, the opposite appears to have happened, with the 31-year-old struggling to get to grips with his new car.

Last year, the Portuguese Grand Prix saw Carlos Sainz Jr snatch the race lead from under both Mercedes’ noses and considering how far the British team have progressed this season, team principal Andreas Seidl could have a headache incoming as the two drivers battle for a potential podium finish.

Ferrari’s return to form

Imola saw both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr bring home Ferrari’s first double top-five finish since the Turkish Grand Prix last year. Yet whereas wet conditions and misfortune elsewhere had been a factor then, the Ferrari’s looked to be there on genuine pace last time out.

Sainz appears to have gotten to grips with his new Ferrari quicker than both Ricciardo and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel have for their new teams and even Mercedes chief Toto Wolff believes that the Italian team could be in the mix this weekend.

Where has Bottas gone?

Valtteri Bottas’ start to the season has not gone according to plan. Clearly out of contention for the victory in Bahrain and his collision with the Williams of George Russell fighting for ninth in Italy proved to be the tip of the iceberg for his awful weekend.

The Finnish driver needs to find some pace in Portugal and show himself to be a genuine championship contender. Otherwise, he is going to be forced to play the second driver role to Hamilton all season, whilst also being at risk of losing his seat to another talented British driver.

Russell’s search for redemption

George Russell’s search for a maiden Formula One point for Williams continues. The 23-year-old looked set to achieve this in Imola, before a misjudged collision with Bottas for ninth ruined his race.

Emotions were clearly on display, but the driver from King’s Lynn has shown his resilience and maturity to acknowledge his actions and move on. With Williams going from strength-to-strength, Portugal could provide the perfect opportunity for redemption and prove once more why he is hotly tipped to become a Mercedes driver in 2022.

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