Formula 1

Mika Häkkinen: “Portimao showed just why Hamilton is a seven time World Champion”

May 4, 2021January 6th, 2022

"LEWIS Hamilton might be closer to the end of his F1 career than the beginning, but he has lost none of his love of racing. He is really enjoying the challenge Mercedes is facing from Red Bull, and Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix gave Lewis another opportunity to remind everyone why he is a seven times World Champion. 

He won the race despite not qualifying on pole position and even dropping to 3rd on lap 7. But race craft has always been a strong point for Lewis, and he did a brilliant job again. 

Even so, it was interesting to see him make that small mistake at the Safety Car restart. Lewis was looking in his mirrors to check Max Verstappen’s position instead of focussing on Valtteri Bottas. 

It is important to know where the guy behind is, of course, but not quite as important as waiting to see when the race leader goes for it at the restart!  Max made the most of Lewis’s hesitation, taking 2nd place and trying to chase after Valtteri. 

 

 

The Mercedes was a little quicker than the Red Bull on the main straight in Portugal, however, and it only took Lewis four laps to recover his position from Max. He then chased Valtteri down, moving into the lead on lap 20. Lewis loves that kind of challenge.

It was good to see Valtteri pushing hard, trying to defend, but it was impossible to protect himself at Turn 1. With DRS open, it was straightforward for Lewis to take the lead around the outside.

What was much more frustrating for Valtteri was that Max was able to move ahead after their pit stops. The fact that Max had stopped a lap earlier meant that he had been able to get his hard compound tyres up to temperature, so he had a lot more grip when Valtteri came out of the pits. Then, with Valtteri’s car sliding around, Max could make the move.

I do think that Valtteri could have challenged Max towards the end of the race if he had not suffered that exhaust sensor issue which dropped his car onto low power mode. That cost him a few seconds. Starting from pole position Valtteri certainly had the pace. He was later able to stop for a set of soft tyres and claim the world championship point for fastest race lap.   

Red Bull and Honda have done a fantastic job, but Mercedes has recovered quickly after a less competitive start to the year. One of the strengths of Mercedes is their ability to react, so although I think that the Portimao circuit suited their cars slightly more than the Red Bulls, Lewis and Valtteri really do have an exceptionally strong technical team supporting them.

One area of frustration for Max has been track limit penalties. He should have won in Bahrain and could have taken pole position and set fastest lap in Portugal. But each time he put all four wheels over the line at some point on the circuit. It is so easy to do, but you cannot afford to make small mistakes like that.  To beat Lewis, Max needs to do a perfect job each weekend.

 

 

Lando Norris has finished the first three Grands Prix in the top five, a very impressive run for the McLaren driver, particularly when considering the strengths of team mate Daniel Ricciardo. For Norris to be 3rd in the World Championship for Drivers, and McLaren 3rd in front of Ferrari in the team’s World Championship is incredible. One of the biggest stories of this season so far.

I should also mention that Sunday was Mercedes-Benz’s 500th Grand Prix. I am very happy to have played part in their history in Formula One during my time with McLaren-Mercedes. We achieved a lot of success together, so it is good to see that partnership renewed, and working.

The other relationship that has started to work well again is between Alpine and its former World Champion Fernando Alonso. Alonso finished 8th, just behind team mate Esteban Ocon, but his lap times towards the end of the race were really strong. His fastest lap was only one tenth slower than Lewis Hamilton’s.

Behind Mercedes and Red Bull the fight between McLaren, Ferrari, Alpine and Alpha Tauri is very tight. This is so good for Formula One. We have a lot to look forward to in Spain this weekend."