If there were any doubts that Lewis Hamilton has kept his hunger to win an eighth World Drivers’ Championship in 2021, the Briton affirmed his ambitions this past weekend, taking victory in the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Nosing back ahead of Max Verstappen in his quest to make F1 history, the seven-time champion overhauled teammate Valtteri Bottas on the front row – after Mercedes locked out the grid in the Algarve – to take his 97th career win.
Moving back out to a seven-point lead over the pursuing Verstappen, Hamilton’s successive wins in Portimao have steered him back on course. As the summer season ramps up however, the heat may yet see Mercedes off the pace of Red Bull.
After just three races of the season, the intrigue around F1 has reached levels not seen in some time, but it remains to be seen what the next act of this fascinating ensemble cast might have in store.
Over to you in Barcelona, Max.
Bottas not going quietly
Mercedes completed a characteristically strong weekend with a second podium double of the season, and after it was Bottas who took pole for the first time in 2021, the Finn has reminded all in the paddock he is still not to be underestimated.
After Bahrain saw Mercedes’ number two as only third fastest in qualifying, his weekend at Imola last time out was then one of his toughest in recent years, struggling in Q3 to only make eighth.
With growing whispers the 31-year-old could be in his last year with the Silver Arrows – with Russell himself rumoured to be filling his seat next term – Bottas has gently reminded his team and boss Toto Wolff in particular, he is still a contender.
Norris, Leclerc impress again
Forget the hype. Lando Norris looks to be the real deal.
After his second career podium in Emilia Romagna last time out, the Bristolian had taken the next step in his F1 journey, so to pick up in P5 in Portugal was a further indication of his growing presence in the field.
Sitting third in the standings after three outings, Norris has yet to finish outside the top five so far this campaign and moving from the wet of Imola to the arid climes of southern Europe here, the Briton is proving his ability in all conditions.
The story was a little different for his stablemate Daniel Ricciardo, whose ninth place was his worst – or rather least successful – in seven races. There remain small things to iron out for the Australian in his new surroundings.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc similarly, looks to be travelling in the same direction as Norris, and he himself picked up another P6 in Portugal after a fourth in Italy and another sixth in Sakhir.
Scuderia’s pace problems seem to be lingering problems for the Prancing Horse, but for now, Leclerc is looking to right the ship, as Carlos Sainz Jr. attempts to play catch-up also.
Alonso boost for on-song Alpine
As the relative fledglings of the grid look to stamp their own mark on F1, one such individual in Fernando Alonso – a two-time title winner no less – has returned this season having seemingly not missed a beat.
The 39-year-old veteran from Oviedo made it successive races in the points in Portugal, indeed by recording P8 in Portimao, the Spaniard produced his best result since Singapore in 2018.
Whilst McLaren and Ferrari look to be building on the progress of the past 12 months, Alpine also enjoyed the first of two weekends in Iberia themselves, making it back-to-back top 10 finishes after Imola, for both Alonso and Esteban Ocon.
With Ocon crossing the line seventh to beat Alonso, the latter’s recovery from a frustrating qualifying however, was still a huge step for the upcoming term.
As Alonso makes his home return to Catalonia for next weekend’s Spanish GP in mere days, the French manufacturer have made an ideal start in amongst a midfield scrap, which looks to be every bit as competitive as the title race itself.
Mazepin must learn lessons
For Haas F1 however, their early-season tribulations continued in the Algarve. Though it is of course too early to plot the route of the season, team principal Gene Haas could be left with many a sleepless night this campaign.
Not least in dealing with his ultra-raw, green rookie in Nikita Mazepin, who after finishing at the back of the pack again in Portugal, did so this weekend in less than gracious manner.
Having completed only two of three to begin his debut season in F1, Mazepin is understandably feeling the frustrations of his transition from Formula 2, but his penalty for ignoring multiple blue flags was a reminder he has much to learn.
As Mick Schumacher came home over a minute ahead of his team mate, Mazepin’s actions felt akin to that of a truculent teen, not used to his unfamiliar position at the back of the field.
It must be a huge concern for Haas as they look to curb the Russian’s undoubted merited place. But said arc must begin at the feet of Mazepin himself, and a change in attitude must follow soon, or his stint in F1 could be short-lived.
The 2021 Spanish Grand Prix takes place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend.
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