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A late surge by Lewis Hamilton toward the dying stages of Saturday’s all-important qualifying for the first-ever Portuguese Grand Prix (in 24 years) saw the Mercedes driver claim a solid pole position.
Impressive not only because it was his first-ever pole at a track he had just no idea or experience at, the last-ever Portuguese GP held in 1996, but also because it would be Lewis’s 97th career pole.
Having locked out the front row, with Bottas in second, Sunday’s returning Portuguese GP is bound to be in Mercedes’ favor. That’s, of course, until something drastic happens, such as a Red Bull charge by the likes of Max Verstappen, P3, in the qualifying.
A piece of history in the making?
But central to Lewis Hamilton’s maiden pole at the Portimao-bound Portuguese GP qualifying- that saw the Stevenage-born go at 1:16:652 was- a late burst of speed. This would be good enough to topple Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas, whose last victory came at the Russian Grand Prix.
That being told, Max Verstappen of Red Bull- already with five 2nd place finishes this season (including back-to-back P2 finishes at Sochi and Nurburgring)- shall try his level best to offer a bull run at ruining Mercedes’ party come the race-day.
Having said that, the biggest talking point for the 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix would be whether Lewis Hamilton, a six-time world champion, can bag his 92nd race-win.
Of course, this is no breaking news now that should the famous Briton do so, he would overtake the great Michael Schumacher for most F1 race wins of all time.
That being told, familiar troubles ensued for those who got knocked out in the first run of qualifying, failing to make it to Q2.
Those eliminated being Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen (who won’t be part of Haas in 2021), and Williams’ rookie driver Nicholas Latifi.
The best of the rest, in P15, was Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, enduring a poor season where he’s had all sorts of troubles. Though, if there was a driver who wouldn’t complain all too much would be Williams’ George Russell, in P14, who once again served a fine reminder of why he’s so rated. The young British driver outperformed his Canadian teammate yet again, as he’s put himself into Q2, ending ahead of the final five.
But at the heart of the undulating rhythm of Portimao’s Algrave circuit were strong results for the likes of Ferrari, Racing Point, and McLaren; Leclerc emerging on fourth, followed by Perez (P5), Alexander Albon in the other Red Bull (P6), and Carlos Sainz (P7), who beat teammate Lando Norris for the duo’s first-ever Portuguese GP qualifying drive (much like the rest of the grid).
Common Midfield Tussles
Following Norris on P8, were the fighting duo of Pierre Gasly (P9) and Daniel Ricciardo (P10), in Renault.
The Honeybadger, though, might feel a tad bit disappointed in his final grid position, given his previous two qualifying performances read – P5 at Sochi, and P6 at the 2020 Eifel GP, the venue for FORMULA 1’s last Grand Prix before arriving at Portimao.
Though one can’t say the same for Monza-winner Gasly, the Alpha Tauri driver beating one of the fastest men on the current grid in a better performance at the Portuguese GP quali.
Moreover, Leclerc would feel delighted at having punched above the weight, as has been his story in a year where nothing’s quite gone Ferrari’s way given the SF 1000’s troubles.
Meanwhile, the likes of Sainz and Perez would desire beating their respective teammates in the 2020 Portuguese GP having driven determined laps on the medium compounds.
There was disappointment for the likes of Esteban Ocon, who couldn’t finish inside points at the Nurburgring, retiring owing to a hydraulics issue on lap 22 a fortnight ago.
Meanwhile, Stroll, who’s done decently well for Racing Point this season, missed out on a strong drive, and resultantly was down in P12.
Following the young Canadian was Daniil Kvyat in the other Alpha Tauri, the Russian Torpedo delivering yet another lukewarm quali drive, albeit his first at a track where none of the grid has raced before.
But can he improve come the race? We are yet to see.
That being said, the biggest thing to see for the Portuguese GP is whether Mercedes’ battling duo can claim not just a podium place but gun for another race win, undistracted by what might be Max’s great charge.
As it is, of the eleven races held thus far, only Verstappen and Gasly have been the other two drivers to have won a Grand Prix, with Lewis winning 7 and Valtteri clinching 2 wins.
And that is precisely why Sunday’s race could be a mega contest, not just in defining once again Mercedes’s ruthless form but in shaping the annals of the sport, courtesy Lewis Hamilton’s very likely race win.