Hamilton predicting ‘exciting’ fight for pole with little to choose between Mercedes and Red Bull
Mercedes may have completed their second consecutive clean sweep of Friday practice times at the Portuguese Grand Prix – but according to both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, it’s too close to call as to whether they, or rivals Red Bull, have the real advantage going into qualifying at Portimao.
It was Bottas who headed Free Practice 1 from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by just 0.025s, while Hamilton led the Dutchman by a more comfortable 0.143s in FP2 – the team following up their clean sweep from Friday at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix two weeks ago. But with all drivers struggling with windy conditions and a slippery track surface at Portimao, Hamilton said the fight for pole position was going to be a tight one between the two rival teams.
“I think it’s going to be a close-run [thing],” said Hamilton, pursuing an incredible 100th pole position this weekend. “I think it looks like were close. I don’t know how Max’s lap was [in FP2] but mine wasn’t perfect, so we’ve definitely got some time to come from the car and some improvements to make. I’m sure they have too, but it was close, as it has been the last couple of races, so it’s exciting.
“I think everyone looks like they were struggling with their balance out there today,” added Hamilton. “It’s definitely been a real challenge today to keep the car on track.”
Bottas put in a ragged best effort in FP2 to take P3 behind his team mate and Verstappen, over three-tenths off Hamilton’s time. And the Finn admitted that he was still struggling to get comfortable in the “pretty loose” W12 – while adding that the deciding factor for Saturday’s pole position could come down to how much time Mercedes and Red Bull’s engineers can find in their cars during Friday evening’s data crunching…
“It’s good to see we’re there or thereabouts, but it’s going to be close, no doubt,” said Bottas. “It’s still quite slippery tarmac, you know, and especially the rear of the car is pretty loose in places, so it wasn’t easy – it’s not easy to get clean laps.
“For me personally today, the softer we went with the compounds, the more tricky the car became, so I actually found the medium tyre to be the best working tyre so far… Tomorrow [tyre warm-up] is going to be really important in terms of qualifying; if you get the tyre right that makes a big difference, so that’s quite a high priority for us.
“I think it’s going to be close, it’s hard to say exactly,” Bottas added of the fight with Red Bull. “In FP2 with the softs, I didn’t really get a good lap time, so I think it’s going to be close and it could swing either way; whoever finds more lap time overnight is going to be on pole.”