Mercedes back on form

The world champions were back to their dominant best at Portimao. Valtteri Bottas took the 24th pole of his career, but it was Lewis Hamilton who once again delivered when it counted to take his 97th Grand Prix victory.

It was not plain sailing for Hamilton though who started second after he was jumped by Verstappen into Turn 1 after a poorly judged safety car restart. The Brit though recovered from his error and capitalised on a Verstappen error to swoop past the Dutchman five laps later. Hamilton chased down his teammate and eventually passed him with a clinical move around the outside of Turn 1 to take control of the race.

During the pitstop phase, Verstappen jumped Bottas after the Finnish drivers mistake on colder tyres cost Mercedes a 1-2 finish. Mercedes and Hamilton though were the class of the field and finished 30 seconds ahead of Verstappen who pitted and failed to get the extra fastest lap point. Instead, that went to Bottas after the Red Bull driver exceeded track limits at Turn 14.

The F1 circus heads to Barcelona next weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix for F1’s first double header of the season. Mercedes have dominated at Barcelona since the turbo hybrid era began back in 2014, taking six of the seven race victories there. The only exception. Max Verstappen taking his first victory in F1 back in 2016. Will history repeat itself in 2021?

McLaren’s new team leader

The difference between the two McLaren drivers at the moment is light and day. Many expected seven-time F1 race winner, Daniel Ricciardo, to come in as team leader and take the fight to Mercedes and Red Bull this season. It has been the complete opposite though with the Australian being outperformed by his younger teammate Lando Norris.

In the previous two seasons, Norris beat his former McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz in qualifying but was outperformed heavily in the races points-wise. The young Brit has improved on his consistency in races this season scoring three top five’s in the opening three races including the second podium of his F1 career at Imola.

Ricciardo meanwhile has scored points at every race so far, but has yet to finish in the top six, and was even asked to let his teammate through at Imola after struggling for pace in the MCL35M.

The Aussie also took a few races to adapt to his Renault car after his move from Red Bull in 2018, and with the McLaren car possessing different characteristics to the 2020 Renault car, it won’t be long before Ricciardo starts pushing Norris even more.

A step in the right direction for Alpine

Other than a Q3 appearance in Bahrain, it had been a below-par start to the 2021 for the newly-branded Renault team: Alpine. After a strong finish to 2020, that included three podiums in the final seven races, there was multiple changes in their management with team principal Cyril Abiteboul announcing his departure in January.

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso returned to the team that brought him his two titles in 2005 and 2006, replacing Daniel Riccardo. Frenchman Esteban Ocon retained his seat after returning to the sport last season after being cast aside by Racing Point.

The team had picked up a solitary point after Kimi Raikkonen’s penalty at Imola, that is being appealed by Alfa Romeo, and sat seventh in the constructors standings. But the characteristics of the Portimao circuit suited Alpine with Esteban Ocon qualifying P6, his best qualifying in 20 races, and the team scoring 10 points: finishing P7 and P8 behind to jump up to fifth in the standings.

With updates expected this weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix, expect the Alpine team to take the fight to the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and Alpha Tauri in the coming races.

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