Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team’s Lewis Hamilton scored the 97th pole position of his Formula 1 career during today’s qualifying session at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve (Portimão). Hamilton will start tomorrow’s race alongside teammate Valtteri Bottas who scored the second fastest time of the afternoon session, just a tenth of a second adrift of Hamilton.
Toto Wolff described qualifying as “fantastic” for the team with both drivers having been given a choice of how they were to tackle Q3. He said: “That was a fantastic qualifying session, coming right down to the very final laps in Q3. We gave both drivers the choice of tyre and run length for the last outing in Q3 – they went for the Medium and Valtteri went for one timed lap, Lewis for three.
“In the end, it came down to just a tenth of a second between them in a great battle, with Lewis taking pole on his final lap and Valtteri running a little wide in the second sector at Turn 8, until which point he had been slightly ahead on the delta time.”
Hamilton chose to take the three timed laps option in order to try and beat Bottas’ time, with the Finn only taking one timed lap. Hamilton gambled on his qualifying strategy, with it eventually paying off in the closing stages of Q3 as his lap times kept dropping and moving closer to that of Bottas’.
Portimão has proved to be a challenge for the drivers with its undulating geology making it one of the more difficult circuits to get to grips with. “This is a hardcore circuit, with places where you can’t see where you’re going because you’re just looking at the sky, so there are no references for braking points for example.” Said Hamilton, “It’s among the most challenging circuits I’ve been to, especially with this new surface that makes it hard to get the tyres switched on and working on both axles.”
Bottas had topped the times all weekend, in each practice session and right through to the final qualifying showdown, but was ultimately pipped to pole, which was an obvious disappointment for him.
He commented: “That was a strong session for me until the final run. It has been tricky to get clean laps this weekend and the final one for me was decent but not perfect – that’s the challenge of a track and a surface like this. So of course, a little disappointing not to be on pole after topping the times most of the weekend, but I will be fighting for the win from P2 tomorrow.”
Both Lewis and Valtteri will be starting tomorrow’s race on the medium tyre which Wolff said gives them different strategy options for different scenarios, saying: “It’s set for an intriguing battle tomorrow: we don’t have too much information on how the tyres will behave, and both our cars will start on the medium compound; Verstappen on the other hand starts on soft, and has a fresh medium tyre for the race, which will give him some different strategy options. It’s looking like an exciting Grand Prix, especially with some rain showers in the forecast too.”
The team’s primary focus is staying ahead of Max Verstappen; the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver, being the only close contender to the pace of the Mercedes duo. The team’s Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin explained their set up choices for the Portuguese Grand Prix: “We’d decided to start both cars on the medium tyre as it gives us a bit of flexibility on the strategy and we’d found the soft tyre to be quite fragile on the long run this morning.
“However, we’re expecting it to be cooler, windier and with a risk of rain which makes it hard to predict how things will go. In recent races we’ve seen Red Bull getting closer and closer to us on pace so the big question in the first stint will be whether we can build any kind of a gap, assuming we’re still in front. After that it’s a case of understanding how the tyres are behaving in the different conditions and what to do on strategy. There are many more unknowns than normal but that should help keep it interesting.”