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Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses


Reviewing Friday’s big stories at the Portuguese GP as Mercedes enjoy a practice double ahead of Max Verstappen, while Alpine joins Ferrari in the forward fight;watch Portimao qualifying on Saturday at 3 p.m. on Sky Sports F1, with a ramp-up from 2 p.m.

Last update: 04/30/21 7:00 p.m.

Review of the big stories of Friday at the Portuguese GP as Mercedes enjoys a practice double, while Alpine joins Ferrari to fight forward.

Mercedes vs Red Bull: Advantage World Champions or Too Close to Call?

Throughout the first two rounds of the season – where they won one race each – Mercedes and Red Bull were keen to stand out rather than accept the favorites label. Don’t expect this approach to change in Portugal.

But what we can say is that, perhaps for the first time in F1 2021 so far, there is a compelling argument to suggest that Mercedes has a faster car than Red Bull at the end of a race. day of action on the track.

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses 2:18
Lewis Hamilton reflects on positive Friday for Mercedes at Portuguese GP after double practice, but still expects ‘very close’ battle with Red Bull

Lewis Hamilton reflects on positive Friday for Mercedes at Portuguese GP after double practice, but still expects ‘very close’ battle with Red Bull

Yes Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain GP and, yes, Valtteri Bottas dominated both Friday practice sessions at Imola – but both of those feats were accomplished as Red Bull stumbled somewhat. On Friday in Portimao, the Mercedes drivers secured a brace of pure-paced practice and generally seemed more comfortable throughout.

That’s not to say Max Verstappen was distant (0.025 seconds from Bottas in P1 and 0.143 from Hamilton in P2) and isn’t a threat to qualifying (given Red Bull’s pace on Saturday so far this season) – but Mercedes must surely be feeling better. heading to the weekend crunch sessions than they have been for a long time.

When asked about Red Bull’s pace, Verstappen will only say that all was well, while Hamilton, who dominated his first practice session of the year, was just as cautious. “Looks like we’re close,” he said.

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses

“I don’t know how Max’s lap went, mine wasn’t perfect so we definitely have some time to spend with the car and some improvements to make.

“But I’m sure they did too. But it’s close, as it’s been the last two races, so it’s exciting.”

Bottas, going further, added: “It could tip either way. Whoever finds more lap time overnight will be on pole.”

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses

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It is this unpredictability that has spiced up F1 2021 and which leaves us with no clue who will lead the grid next Sunday.

“I think what’s great tomorrow, I couldn’t really predict which way it’s going to go,” said Paul Di Resta of Sky F1.

Ferrari shines again as Alpine emerges as contender

Ferrari appear to be leading the midfield at Portimao – the Scuderia not only sidelining their chief rival McLaren, but also challenging the top two. Charles Leclerc was 0.2 seconds off the fastest time in P1 and Carlos Sainz was fourth, 0.360 seconds behind in P2.

A suprise? Probably not, given that they have already proven themselves to be a rejuvenated force in 2021 by qualifying second and scoring double points, twice.

What came as a surprise at the end of Friday, however, was who joined them as the main midfield team.

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses

Alpine has generally languished towards the back of the field since the start of the season, scoring just three points. But the renamed France squad came to life in the second training session as Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon finished fifth and sixth, four tenths behind Hamilton’s scorer.

“It was good, I think we were happy with the car,” said Alonso. “It wasn’t until Friday, but we were comfortable from the first round.”

The two-time world champion, however, warned: “I think the positions won’t be too different from Imola and Bahrain, I don’t think there will be any change in the order. It’s just a different approach to Friday. “

Let Alpine dream, Fernando!

“We know Ferrari are quick, if they are ahead of us it’s no surprise,” said Lando Norris of McLaren. “But we’ve had a big gap with Alpine the last couple of weekends, and here they look a lot more competitive.”

Could the “very delicate” conditions of Portimao influence the battle?

Adding another variable to the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull is the fact that it cannot be decided on outright pace, but rather on who can master the tough slippery conditions on the Algarve circuit. . Only ironed shortly before last year’s first Grand Prix and with little action on the track since, riders have struggled with grip – apparently regardless of tire.

“I think everyone was sliding out there,” Hamilton said. “It was definitely a real challenge today to keep the car on the track.”

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses 0:59
Nicholas Latifi slides through the gravel of Portimao at the eighth turn in difficult conditions on Friday

Nicholas Latifi slides through the gravel of Portimao at the eighth turn in difficult conditions on Friday

Verstappen thinks that could be the deciding factor in determining who comes out on top, adding: “It’s just really tricky with the tarmac, it’s super slippery. I know it’s the same for everyone, but it’s not really fun to drive.

“It’s a shame. It all depends on the tire preparation, the temperature of the tires and it shouldn’t be like that.”

Save a thought for Seb

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses 0:38
A laugh to himself over Sebastian Vettel’s radio as he initially entered the empty booth of McLaren, one of his Aston Martin team

A laugh to himself over Sebastian Vettel’s radio as he initially entered the empty booth of McLaren, one of his Aston Martin team

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses

Portuguese GP: Friday talking points as Mercedes steal the march on Red Bull and Ferrari, Alpine impresses 2:14
Karun Chandhok was at SkyPad to analyze the two Aston Martin drivers during the second practice before the Portuguese GP.

Karun Chandhok was at SkyPad to analyze the two Aston Martin drivers during the second practice before the Portuguese GP.

Sebastian Vettel saw the funny side of the comedy scene that made him forget where Aston Martin’s booth was in Portimao – but not so much his Friday pace.

Vettel finished 16th and 15th in both sessions, which hardly inspires confidence that this will be the weekend his Aston career kicks off.

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