Who were the winners and losers of the Portuguese Grand Prix?

02-05-2021 20:35
Column
Who were the winners and losers of the Portuguese Grand Prix?

It may not have possessed the drama of Bahrain or Imola, but the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix certainly provided food for thought in the title battle, and the fight to be top of the midfield. There was no rain to disrupt the action like in Italy, and the race seemed to be more based upon strategy than pure pace, with Red Bull's decision to pit Max Verstappen before Valtteri Bottas paying off for the Dutchman.

However, it was Lewis Hamilton who was victorious in Portimao and the win ensured he extended his lead over Verstappen. You can read our overall report of the race here, but which other drivers impressed around the 66-lap race, and who failed to deliver?

Winner - Fernando Alonso

After a fairly average start to life back in Formula 1, Fernando Alonso reminded us all of just why he's a two-time world champion in the Algarve region of southern Portugal. Whilst he's no longer driving a top car, the 39-year-old still has all that nous and competitive edge that powered him to the 2005 and 2006 Drivers' Championship titles.

He failed to make it out of Q2, and started Sunday's race in P13; somewhat disappointing considering that his Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon qualified in sixth, ahead of the likes of Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc.

And whilst the Frenchman managed to achieve a P7 finish, better than Alonso, the Spaniard seemed more comfortable in his A521, and thoroughly impressed.

He finished the race in eighth, only 1.059 seconds behind Ocon, despite starting seven grid places behind him; it was a sensational drive from the veteran.

He may have started slowly, but the team's decision to keep him out on his medium tyres until lap 40 payed off. Once he pitted onto the hard compound tyre, Alonso came alive. He saw moves past Sebastian Vettel, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo stick and his expertise saw himself score four points in his bid to beat his teammate Ocon in the championship.

Winner - Daniel Ricciardo 

After his woeful Saturday, one man who I didn't expect to put in the winners section was Daniel Ricciardo. The seven-time race winner failed to make it out of Q1 and started the race in 16th place, behind both Alfa Romeo cars, and the Williams of George Russell.

However, in a superior car to those around him, the Aussie was able to draw upon his F1 experience and speed to climb through the pack in the race with relative ease. Like Alonso, he started on the medium tyre and managed to make up places like there was no tomorrow.

He pitted late on, again like Alonso, and the strategy was executed perfectly. Zak Brown had hoped for a points finish from Ricciardo, and a points finish is exactly what he delivered.

Whilst he was passed by Alonso late on, Ricciardo held on to ninth place to collect two championship points and move away from Carlos Sainz, and into P7 in the Drivers' Championship.

His teammate Lando Norris has been in our winners section in the past two races, and whilst the Brit dominated Ricciardo in qualifying, and finished in fifth, the Aussie's recovery driver was extremely impressive, and has gone somewhat under the radar.

The former Red Bull and Renault driver will be hoping that this drive is the launchpad for a successful season that has so far seen him sitting 21 points behind Norris.

A special mention to Norris, however, who finished in the top five for the fourth consecutive race in F1; this could well be his year.

Constructor Winner - Alpine

Of course Alonso is one of our driver 'winners', but we have to mention the job that the entire Alpine team did this weekend. In a season in which they were expected to push on, they have so far failed to deliver on expectations, and before Portugal, had amassed just three points in the opening two races.

This weekend, however, the French team looked competitive again, and if they can keep it up, then they'll be fighting for fifth in the championship with AlphaTauri.

With Ocon in P7 and Alonso in P8, the team took home 10 points, more than Ferrari, and are now fifth with 13 points.

Whilst Alonso's exit in Q2 will have been disappointing, it was an encouraging weekend even ignoring Sunday; Ocon looked racey on Saturday, and looked as though he could even challenge the Red Bull of Sergio Perez for P4 on the grid.

That never came to fruition, but for a team lacklustre so far this year, Portimao could well prove to be a pivotal piece in Alpine's 2021 puzzle.

Loser - George Russell

Mr Saturday holds that name for a reason. Still yet to be outqualified by a teammate at Williams, George Russell is simply a master of extracting every last millisecond of speed out his car over one lap.

The problem he has though, is that the Williams simply isn't quick enough over the course of an entire race. The troubling thing about his race in Portugal, however, was that it didn't take long for him to start tumbling down the order; he couldn't get enough heat into his tyres to fire that engine around the 4.653km loop at a quick enough rate of knots to hold off the best efforts of the likes of Antonio Giovinazzi and the aforementioned Ricciardo and Alonso.

In fact, Russell was even passed by his teammate Nicholas Latifi after both had pitted, despite the Canadian starting down in P18; it was not a pleasant afternoon for the man hoping for a Mercedes seat next season.

He did manage to regain his place ahead of Latifi, but a 16th place finish will not have pleased Russell. The potential of finally scoring points for Williams was there, considering his starting position, but he never threatened the top 10, and a slide down the order, rather than a rise up, was the story of his afternoon.

Loser - Carlos Sainz

Just as I was surprised to have included Ricciardo in the winners, I was shocked that Carlos Sainz found himself in our 'losers' section, but it's justified.

After outqualifying Leclerc and starting fifth on the grid, I had tipped Sainz to push for a podium if one of the frontrunners had an issue. This was pushed further into the agenda once the Spaniard leapfrogged Sergio Perez on lap one and moved into P4. It looked as though Sainz would make excellent gains in the championship, but things quickly unravelled.

Having started on the soft tyres, Sainz pitted for mediums on lap 21, and he had to nurse those tyres for the remainder of the race; tyre degredation hampered his race, and he slowly fell back through the order to finish P11 and out of the points. 

The 26-year-old had looked as though he'd found his feet with the Ferrari pedals on Saturday, but with a poor strategy, he was unable to translate this into an impressive points haul on Sunday.

Considering Leclerc started in eighth and finished in sixth, Sainz will be extremely disappointed in how things panned out in Portimao.

Constructor Loser - Aston Martin

Williams were certainly a contender for this, but they narrowly avoided two consecutive races as a loser thanks to a fairly nothing race from Aston Martin.

It has not been the start to the season that Otmar Szafnauer would've hoped for, and after Lance Stroll qualified in P17 it didn't look as though it would improve.

Sebastian Vettel's first Q3 appearance in 15 races looked promising, and the aim was for the German to score his first points at the team. That aim never materialised, and he finished the race in 13th, with his Canadian teammate Stroll in 14th.

It marked a first pointless race of the season for the team, after Stroll had collected a 10th and eighth place finish in Bahrain and Imola respectively, and they currently sit seventh in the Constructors' Championship; whilst it's a long season, the likes of McLaren and Ferrari already look too far way to catch, and the best they can hope for is fifth, something they'll only achieve if they can oust Alpine and AlphaTauri.

The rebrand from Racing Point has not been the smoothest of transitions so far, and Portugal highlighted the flaws in the AMR21; onto Spain we move, can they improve there?

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