RACE DEBRIEF

    Valtteri Bottas qualified for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in a disappointing P8, nearly half a tenth off his team mate Lewis Hamilton’s pole time. But after securing his first pole position of the 2021 season for the Portuguese Grand Prix, the Finn credited “a lot of lessons” from Imola for his qualifying breakthrough at Portimao.

    Bottas denied Hamilton his 100th pole position in Formula 1 by just 0.007s, both drivers setting their quickest laps on soft tyres in the first runs of Q3, before a bold switch to mediums for their final runs saw neither driver improve – Mercedes, however, seeing off the threat from Red Bull for their 71st front row lock-out since 2014, with Max Verstappen nearly four-tenths off after a “hit-and-miss” session.

    READ MORE: Bottas denies Hamilton his 100th F1 pole as Mercedes lock out the front row at Portimao

    And Bottas said the 17th pole of his career – which sees him tie with Sir Jackie Stewart’s tally – had been a sweet one.

    “It’s a good feeling to be on pole,” said Bottas, who last started from P1 at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. “It feels like it’s been a while so it was nice to get a good qualifying.

    1315661092
    How close was the gap to Hamilton, Valtteri?

    “It definitely put a smile on my face, because in the first two races of the season, the qualifying really from my side… at least the Q3 session hasn’t been the strong point and getting everything out of the car and tyres to work well has been a bit of a weakness,” Bottas added.

    “But now, it felt like things are starting to go in the right direction. I’ve been feeling strong all weekend so I knew it was possible and it definitely makes me really happy to put it together in Q3 and be on pole. And as a team as well, with the pressure and with the battle from Red Bull, it’s good to be ahead.”

    READ MORE: 'Not a result I feel good about at all' – Ricciardo at a loss to explain ‘grim’ Q1 exit in Portugal

    Bottas’ pole was all the more impressive given his struggles at Imola, where after his P8 in qualifying, he then dramatically crashed out of the race while being challenged for P9 by Williams’ George Russell. And Bottas said that taking the learnings, and forgetting the negatives, from two weeks ago had been key to his Portimao pole.

    “Mentally, I took all the learning points [from Imola], and there were a lot of lessons from last race, as always,” he said. “So I took those, and the rest that I should forget, I completely moved aside and forgot those and moved on.

    2021 Portuguese GP Qualifying: Bottas takes pole position at Portimao

    “I know that always hard work will pay off and that's what I've been telling my team as well,” Bottas added. “But it's only Saturday and I always knew [pole] was possible with a good quali. But we'll see tomorrow – tomorrow's the day that matters.”

    It is indeed – and with Hamilton starting alongside him, and both Red Bulls on the second row, Bottas will know that his first victory of the season is far from a foregone conclusion, with the Finn currently sitting P5 in the drivers’ standings, behind Hamilton, Verstappen, McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.