Mika Hakkinen, a former Formula 1 driver and two-time world champion, commented on the main results of the Portuguese Grand Prix and gave a multiple prediction for the race in Imola, calling the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit one of his favorite circuits.
Last Sunday, Lewis Hamilton won the Portuguese Grand Prix with his 92nd victory, which allowed him to surpass the record of Michael Schumacher, my old rival, set back in 2006. This only underscores the unconditional advantage that Lewis and his Mercedes team have achieved in Formula 1 in the hybrid era.
For Lewis, this is an important achievement, because he won his first victory back in June 2007 in Canada and remains competitive for 13 years – it’s just incredible. I know how much effort it takes to win at least one Grand Prix, but he has succeeded 92 times already!
Many stress that Lewis pilots the best car of the championship, but I assure you, taming this most complicated technique at maximum speeds, doing it circle after circle, race after race, season after season is very, very difficult. This requires a special psychological and physical preparation, the utmost concentration and dedication, which distinguishes all great athletes, not just Formula 1 drivers.
In Portugal, teams and pilots had to solve unusual problems, because this Grand Prix was included in the calendar of the season when it had to be revised due to the pandemic. Never before have the stages of the World Cup in Portimao been held, although in this country they know what Formula 1 is. I made my debut with McLaren in Estoril in 1994, and my partner was Ayrton Senna, who in 1985 opened an account with his victories in Portugal. By the way, in 1993 Michael won his second race also in Estoril.
Usually at this time of the year, Formula 1 goes to warmer countries, since in Europe it is already going towards winter, and in Portugal it was unusually cold. The race was also influenced by light rain and a recently refurbished asphalt pavement that provided very poor grip.
During Friday’s training sessions, work on the track was interrupted twice, and none of the teams were able to test the cars on long series of circles, therefore, they were not able to collect enough information to determine the tactics and choice of tires.
Including because of this on Sunday, the teams acted differently: the majority preferred to start on soft tires, while both Mercedes cars had medium-hard tires. It turned out to be the right choice, although the riders using the Soft had a great start. Carlos Sainz at the wheel of McLaren even took the lead, and Kimi Raikkonen drove the first lap just brilliantly, breaking through from 16th position to 6th. But after four laps, the soft tires began to fail, but the Medium tires had already warmed up and started working normally by that moment.
The start of the race was exciting, but as soon as the situation on the track stabilized, we saw that the Mercedes cars returned to their usual leading positions.
It seemed to me that Valtteri Bottas was doing an excellent job, because he again performed well in qualifying, then he had a great start and was ahead of Lewis in the first lap. Hamilton’s car slipped, among other things, because it rained during the start, and this complicated the task for everyone.
However, during the race, it was important to maintain the correct temperature of the tires and achieve good grip on the track, but Valtteri did not succeed, and it was clear that Lewis would inevitably overtake him. After that, the Mercedes duo again broke away from the rest of the peloton so much that Lewis was one lap ahead of everyone, up to Pierre Gasly, who finished fifth.
Red Bull Racing could have done better if they started on Medium tires. At first, Max Verstappen still held out, but then began to lag behind. This team suffers from the fact that in many races only one Dutchman is fighting in the group of leaders, and in Portugal we once again saw that Alex Elbon had difficulties, and he finished in a circle behind his partner.
That being said, Alex is a capable racer, like Gasley, his predecessor at Red Bull, but it looks like being Max Verstappen’s partner is a big problem. I have no doubt that Christian Horner understands the need to find a solution as quickly as possible. Perhaps the whole point is that the car is clearly adjusted taking into account Max’s preferences, because you can clearly see how much Pierre added when he returned to Toro Rosso / AlphaTauri.
On account of Gasly’s victory in Monza, and in Portimao, he also performed well, finishing fifth behind Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari driver has worked with confidence during the Portuguese weekend, also thanks to the efficient work of technical innovations. It’s nice that Scuderia is progressing, but it’s surprising that this can only be seen from Leclair, while Sebastian Vettel’s difficulties continue – he took 10th place.
Like Red Bull, the Italian team needs both drivers to compete if they are going to fight Mercedes.
In the coming weekend, Formula 1 will return to Italy, where the Grand Prix of Emilia-Romagna will be held at the Imola circuit. This is one of my favorite tracks, because it was there that in 1991 I earned my first points in Formula 1, finishing fifth behind the wheel of a Lotus. This was a race, because according to the results of qualification I started from a distant 25th position! Definitely, our car did not cope with the qualifications in the best way, but the race is a completely different matter.
Formula 1 has not come to Imola since 2006, so the teams again lack information and experience on this track, moreover, the weekend program has been reduced to two days. On Saturday morning, there will be a single 90-minute training session, so teams and riders will have to work hard to find the settings for qualifying.
Of course, everyone will be under pressure, and this can cause problems, although unexpected opportunities may open up for some.
I expect that Mercedes will continue to dominate, but if Red Bull can come up with something to make both drivers more stable, and Ferrari once again demonstrate progress, and on the home track, then we will see an interesting race.