What the teams said – Qualifying in Portugal
With Red Bull sneaking ahead in FP3, it looked like Mercedes had a real fight on their hands to grab pole today. But with Hamilton especially blisteringly fast in Q2 and the Bulls starting to struggle, suddenly it was much more of a promising scene. Roll on Q3 and Bottas nailed his lap when it mattered to grab pole by 0.007s from his team mate. With both bolting on the mediums for their second run, the dice had been rolled – but in the end, external elements prevented either from improving and so it was the Finn who took his first pole of the season, bouncing back from the disappointment of Imola in style.
Valtteri Bottas, 1st, 1:18.348
"We worked hard to figure out the issues I was experiencing in qualifying, we put things right and this is the result - it's more like how it should be, so I'm happy. In the first two races, I knew the speed was there but my main issue was tyre warm-up. We've put a lot of focus on that, we learned some lessons and I always knew our hard work would pay off. The key was to stay calm, execute the plan and focus on the small details, particularly on the out-laps.
"We've been stronger than expected which is a positive surprise but it's only qualifying, I'm already thinking about tomorrow. We know the Red Bulls have a strong race car and we are expecting an epic battle."
Lewis Hamilton, 2nd, 1:18.355
"Not that enjoyable of a session because I couldn't get that many good laps in but I'm not too frustrated, I only did one good lap and that was in Q2. Of course I'd have loved to put more good laps together but it was tricky out there. It's a slippery track, the tyres are hard so you need to do multiple laps to put temperature into them and it's quite a peaky balance - it works for a second and then falls away very quickly, it's on a knife-edge.
"It wasn't meant to be but Valtteri did a great job today and I'm just focused on the race. Now is the time to understand strategy for tomorrow and work out where the opportunities lie. It's not an easy track to follow but we shall we see - I hope we have good enough pace to fight for the win, tomorrow we'll go all in."
Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
"Qualifying was always our weakness in the first two races and now we're back at the front. We have seen these kinds of performances from Valtteri in the past and today was a mega day for him. But I have no doubt, like I've always said, he can be right up there. Tomorrow we have two Mercedes with two Red Bulls just behind, good ingredients for a nice race!"
Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director
"Congratulations to Valtteri on his 17th career pole position; he's looked solid all weekend in challenging conditions so it's a very well-deserved result. It's also a fine result for the team to be starting with both cars on the front row - the 75th front row of the modern era for Mercedes F1.
"It was a fairly difficult session; it wasn't clear whether the medium or soft would ultimately be the faster tyre and we also had to understand whether a preparation lap was better than going straight for lap one. By final qualifying, no one had come close to matching Lewis's time on medium from Q2 so we decided to hedge our bets by running both compounds. As it happened, the track got much slower in the final minutes so tyre choice wasn't important but we were just grateful that we'd done enough to secure the front row. We had wanted both cars on the medium tyre to start the race and on balance, we're happy to have Red Bull on the same start-tyre given that we have track position. Our main concern will be the warm-up on that compound, the soft runners on the third row and behind will have a grip advantage that could last a lap or two so that may might things tricky."
It is a mark of just how far the team have improved that a second row lock out can be viewed as a slight disappointment today. But after topping FP3 and starting qualifying strongly, Verstappen looked right in the hunt. His first lap in Q3 would ultimately have been good enough for pole, but it was stripped from the record books for track limit infringements. With only one chance to set a competitive time, the Dutchman was thwarted by the wind and had to settle for third. As for Perez, fourth on paper is a handy effort but he was unimpressed with his performance – and predicts much more to come from the team on race pace…
Max Verstappen, 3rd, 1:18.746
“Third is of course not what we wanted but it’s not too bad after I had a Q3 lap time deleted, which would actually have put us fastest even though I lost time with the snap at Turn 4. We struggled with the balance in Q1 and Q2 because of the track surface, and everyone is chasing grip, but we got to a decent level in Q3 so I don’t think we are too far off. It was really one of those sessions where you could end up in P1 or P3 out of the blue. You could do a lap which was pretty good and then put another set of tyres on, and if you had just a little bit of a different out lap and tyre preparation, with the lack of grip around here it makes a big difference and is hard to predict. I think we are still competitive and it will be different in the race tomorrow. Our long runs have been ok and although it’s going to be hard to follow with the grip levels we will first focus on a clean start and then put the pressure on.”
Sergio Perez, 4th, 1:18.890
“It wasn’t a great qualifying on my side, it was very messy in terms of finding my rhythm and so I’m not entirely happy with my lap time. I wasn’t very happy with the balance and I just struggled a lot so it’s a shame we weren’t able to qualify higher. This track is all about the tyres and getting them to the right temperature which is very difficult. I tried everything in terms of warm up with my out laps, build laps, push laps but nothing seemed to work. The conditions with the wind made it more tricky and they probably suited the Mercedes better but we still have a good starting position and a great opportunity tomorrow so anything can happen. I think it will be a tight battle around us so I’m looking forward to that. We just need to put the pressure on the Mercedes and hopefully we can fight for a podium.”
Christian Horner, Team Principal
“It was a difficult qualifying session today, particularly with the very windy conditions, but both drivers progressed through to Q3 on the medium tyres which gives us better strategy options in tomorrow’s race where we lock out the second row of the grid. Max’s first run in Q3 was quick enough for pole but unfortunately his lap was deleted for track limits after a gust of wind at Turn 4 unsettled the car, causing him to run only millimetres wide. Max’s second and final run was then compromised by traffic so it was a rather frustrating third place for him. Checo did well meanwhile to recover from a little scare in Q1 after he briefly visited the gravel trap to take fourth alongside Max. Hopefully both cars can get a good launch and a clean run in tomorrow’s race to make life difficult for the two Mercedes in front.”
Sainz was revelling in the slippery conditions, but a small mistake in Q2 lost him his medium-shod lap time. Having advanced to Q3 on the softs, he put in a brilliant performance to grab the ‘best of the rest’ slot. As for Leclerc, he did make it through to Q3 on the yellow-marked tyre and thus has a preferential race strategy to his team mate, but was disappointed to be starting three places lower.
Charles Leclerc, 8th, 1:19.306
“My performance in Q3 was just not good enough today and I wasn’t at the level I wanted to be. Everyone was struggling in these conditions and I think I pushed a little bit too hard. Once you do that, the rear of the car starts to move a lot and that’s what happened on my fastest lap.
“On the positive side, I did a good job going through on the mediums in Q2, which I think will be a strong point in the race tomorrow, especially at the start. We saw more graining on the softs during free practice, so I hope that this will give us an advantage with those around me all starting on the red tyres.
“We are all really close so in the end, the one who makes the least mistakes will be the one to get ahead.”
Carlos Sainz, 5th, 1:19.039
“It was a very hard qualifying out here in Portimao due to the gusty wind and the tricky conditions but I’m happy with my session. When I was out on track I could feel I was driving well and we have been taking good decisions on the setup of the car all weekend.
“The biggest positive for me is that my approach seems to be working fine and the feeling with the car gets better with every session. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but I think today was a good step and I’m happy about that, though I would have preferred to make it into Q3 with the mediums. My pace was good with that compound and if it hadn’t been for the traffic with an other car on the second push I think I would have been in a better position to make the cut. However, since I had saved one set of softs after a strong first run in Q1, we decided to avoid unnecessary risks and qualified to Q3 with softs. Once in the top ten, a good couple of laps gave us P5 for tomorrow.
“Despite the tyre disadvantage for the race, I’m confident that with a strong start and tyre management from my side we can fight for good points. Let’s race! Hasta manana.”
Laurent Mekies, Racing Director
“All in all, qualifying more or less matched our expectations after what we saw yesterday. Track conditions were very difficult to assess, with an annoying wind, but we secured a good result, getting both drivers into Q3, which only two other teams managed to do. Carlos did a great job today, especially in Q3, when he got everything out of the car.
“Charles could not quite match that in the final part, but his good performance in Q2 means he can start the race on the mediums which, on paper, is a significant advantage in terms of strategy, compared to our closest rivals.
“In this first part of the season, on all three tracks so far, in very different conditions, we have consistently been at the top end of the midfield, always getting at least one of our drivers ahead of the others. That was our goal in terms of outright performance and we have achieved it, even though we know we have to work hard to repeat it at each and every Grand Prix. Now, tomorrow’s objective is to convert today’s potential in the race.”
McLaren had improved in final practice and looked right in the mix for the top 10. But electing to use the mediums in Q1 in order to save softs left Ricciardo right down in the danger zone. The Aussie then suffered with traffic, before making mistakes on his final flying lap to drop out at the first time of asking. As for Norris, he looked to have the pace to disrupt the top two teams today. But ultimately, a mistake on his final flying lap combined with being out in the breeziest of the conditions meant he had to make do with P7 today.
Lando Norris, 7th, 1:19.116
"Reasonably happy with today. A little bit annoyed because we could've been a few positions further up – maybe three – and fourth on the grid, I would say. I can be confident in saying that. I got caught on my Q3 run two lap on the new tyre because of another car backing up in front of me out of the last corner, so I had to abort the lap quite early on, which was frustrating.
"Apart from that, I'm pleased with my performance today. The car was good. Tricky to drive, but fast, and I was still P7, surprisingly, so I’m happy. There are definitely some positives and we’ll see what we can do in the race tomorrow."
Daniel Ricciardo, 16th, 1:19.839
“A frustrating day. We’d had a positive day yesterday, so I wouldn’t have bet on this today. I’m not really sure where it went wrong yet, we’ll have to look at it this evening. Q1 goes very quickly and we just didn’t get any clean laps in. The Medium tyre felt pretty good, and I was pretty happy. Then the first lap on the Soft was a bit interrupted by traffic at the start of the lap, and the end of the lap was just a little bit messy. We tried to go again but the tyre fell away really quickly and we just didn’t have the pace.
“P16 is far from where I want to be, so I’ve just got to figure it out, get some sleep and wake up tomorrow ready to do better.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal
“P7 and P16 is not what we had in mind today when we arrived at the track this morning. We’re definitely disappointed at the moment with the outcome of qualifying.
“Unfortunately, Daniel, after three good practice sessions when he felt a lot more comfortable in the car, couldn’t repeat the performance today in Q1, which unfortunately meant an early end to his qualifying. This evening, together with Daniel, we’ll analyse what happened.
“On Lando’s side, it was again great to see the potential of the car at this track with an in-form Lando behind the wheel. Ending up P7 feels like a disappointment at the moment, looking at the lap-time Lando did in Q2. The track got slower in Q3 and conditions were very inconsistent, but still a better position was possible. Unfortunately, on his final run in Q3 he got caught out by another car slowing in front of him, so he didn’t get a chance to set a time on the new tyres.
“On the positive side, it was again great to see the potential competitiveness of the car, which is a result of the continuous development and hard work by the team back at the factory. Those improvements in performance are very encouraging and we’ll take them with us into the race tomorrow.
“As always, we’ll put this disappointment behind us as quickly as possible and refocus again on tomorrow when points get distributed. We have two good drivers and a great team that will try to fight back tomorrow.”
Alpine showed glimpses of good pace yesterday and backed that up in FP3. Heading into qualifying, they looked good for two slots in the top 10, but Alonso was the surprise faller in Q2. The Spaniard has the scant consolation of free tyre choice for tomorrow at least. That left the pressure on Ocon’s shoulders but the Frenchman delivered with a brilliant sixth for his highest start since Spa last year.
Esteban Ocon, 6th, 1:19.042
“I’m very pleased with that one! Thanks to the team for their hard work and dedication in recent weeks as it’s made the difference today. We made a good step between practice and qualifying, and everything worked really well. We aim to keep finding these improvements and carry this progress forward. We’re starting up there for the race, so that’s good news. We know it’ll be challenging tomorrow but overtaking is possible and there are some differences on starting tyre throughout the grid. The aim is to score points.”
Fernando Alonso, 13th, 1:19.456
“It was not easy today and the weather conditions changed quite a lot from final practice. We lost something between FP3 and qualifying so we need to look at this and understand what happened. The good thing is we can choose the tyre we start on tomorrow and this gives us more options on strategy. Points are scored tomorrow, so it’s still all to play for.”
Davide Brivio, Racing Director
“We’re very pleased with sixth position today for Esteban. He did a great job throughout all of the sessions today and was very consistent. The team also executed our plan in qualifying very well so we can be pleased with that. It was a pity for Fernando, but on the positive we do have some options for his strategy tomorrow. I think we are in a good position for the race and that’s when it all counts.”
After struggling in the wind yesterday, the AlphaTauri drivers didn’t have much more fun in the gusty conditions in qualifying, with both very vocal on the radio about the handling of the AT02. Despite a car not quite to their liking, it was a solid effort from both drivers, with Tsunoda keeping his session clean, and Gasly making Q3 for the third time this season. Ninth is his lowest grid slot of the year, which shows just how well the Frenchman has been performing in 2021 so far.
Pierre Gasly, 9th, 1:19.475
“I’m very satisfied with my qualifying performance today, we seem to find this track more difficult than the last few, so to make it through to Q3 again was positive. We knew coming to Portugal that the characteristics of this circuit would be trickier for us and I think it’s been obvious since we arrived that we’ve struggled slightly with the different conditions, particularly the wind. The team have worked hard since FP1 to change the balance of the car but we’re not completely happy with it yet, so we’ll need to work more tonight to try to understand this more. Whilst I’m not completely comfortable in the car yet, I’m happy we made it through to the final qualifying session, as it seems that our midfield competitors have made some steps forward this weekend, and I think we’re in a position to take some more points tomorrow.”
Yuki Tsunoda, 14th, 1:19.463
“This is my first time driving here and by the end of FP2 I think I’d adapted well to the circuit, so I felt really prepared ahead of qualifying this afternoon. For me, the lap was good but the tyre just wasn’t there – I had no grip at all with the softs and it almost felt like I was driving with the hard tyre until the final sector. It was a tricky qualifying session today and I’m really disappointed, but I’ll analyse the data tonight with my engineers and see where I can improve. Tomorrow, hopefully my race pace will be better, and I will try my best to make my way up the grid.”
Guillaume Dezoteux, Head of Vehicle Performance
“After a difficult Friday, the team have worked on extracting the most from our package for qualifying today. In FP3 we saw we’d made a step in the right direction but getting the soft tyre to perform as we wanted was still a challenge. We made further adjustments to the car, as well as focussing on tyre preparation, for qualifying and we continued to see progression with both drivers. Q1 wasn’t easy, with both Yuki and Pierre experiencing traffic alongside the difficult conditions. Yuki struggled a lot in Q2 and wasn’t able to make a lot of progress, unfortunately finishing in 14th. Meanwhile, Pierre was able to make it through to Q3 but never put the perfect lap together in the final session. Tonight, we will review the different race scenarios and the target will be to finish in the points. Last year Pierre had a solid race starting from the same position, so we are aiming to do this again. For Yuki starting further back, it will be more difficult, but we know he’s great at overtaking and hopefully he can make his way forward into the points."
Stroll had been lapping on the fringes of the top 10 in both sessions on Friday, but dropped back in FP3. That lack of pace seemed genuine, when he fell at the first time of asking in Q1. That left Vettel to fly the Aston Martin flag which he did with aplomb, all the way to Q3 for his first top 10 start for 15 races. Ultimately, he couldn’t compete with the sharp end of the midfield but nonetheless, it is a much needed confidence boost for the German.
Sebastian Vettel, 10th, 1:19.659
“I am feeling happier after that session. We are starting inside the top 10 and will be in the middle of a big fight for points. There is still a lot of hard work ahead of us, but things are starting to click for me and become a bit more automatic, which is helping me focus more on my driving. I am still learning about the car, but today I felt more comfortable. The conditions were tricky – despite the sunshine – and the gusts of wind were quite unpredictable and made the car feel quite light. My final lap in Q3 was not the best. The wind direction had changed again, and I lost some time as a result, which is costly when the midfield is so tight. Overall, though, it was a better session for me. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”
Lance Stroll, 17th, 1:19.913
“A difficult qualifying session and we did not manage to build on the performance level we showed yesterday. I was not very comfortable in the car today and I could not lean on it as much. The traffic at the end of Q1 also did not help and cost me some time on my second run. It is quite a change from yesterday, so we will go away and understand where we can improve and do better next time. Even though today’s result is disappointing, I think we will be stronger in the race. That has been the case in the previous two races. It is a track where we saw lots of overtaking last year and I will be pushing hard to make up ground tomorrow. With a strong first lap and a good strategy, I think we can score points.”
Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal & CEO
“It was great to see Sebastian getting to grips with the AMR21 – literally – over the twists, turns, uphills and downhills of Portimão this afternoon. We made a few set up changes prior to qualifying, and it seemed they worked well, because he was ‘on it’ throughout Q1 and Q2. In Q3, he was not as competitive, ending up P10. Lance was badly affected by traffic in Q1, and the tricky, windy conditions did not help him either; as a result, he just failed to get through to Q2. But he has been driving extremely well so far this year, he says he will be striving to score points tomorrow, and we think that is a legitimate ambition despite his P17 grid slot.”
So close, but still so far. Russell laughed that he hadn’t deserved a Q2 slot on the radio after a messy final effort in Q1. But he scraped through by the skin of his teeth, before performing much better when the pressure was on. A last gasp improvement as the chequered flag fell left him with his best grid slot for Williams to date – but it was a heart-breaking 0.057s off that elusive Q3. As for Latifi, he couldn’t extract the same sort of pace today and had to settle for P18.
George Russell, 11th, 1:19.109
"It was a great performance from us. I did not expect Q2 after this morning, yet alone P11 on the grid. We made it happen when it counted which seems to be the theme at the moment. It’s our best qualifying position in three years so I’m really proud. We all have our responsibilities, and as a team we did a really good job.
"Tomorrow we’ve got to keep moving forward. We have a good race car – it’s fast on the straights, so let’s see what we can do."
Nicholas Latifi, 18th, 1:20.285
"Today was an improvement as we made some big changes overnight. However, it wasn’t the best qualifying for us, and I wasn’t able to get a clean lap at the end of Q1. I am still struggling with the car balance along with the track surface, as everyone is sliding around. It was a bit of a frustrating day, but the race is tomorrow, and we must focus on that."
Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance
"Today was much more difficult than we expected, with the tyre requiring subtly different preparation than yesterday. Fortunately, after a tricky FP3, we got it right when it counted and having got into Q2 once again, George was able to hone the preparation ready for a final push lap, which he was able to execute brilliantly. We are a bit frustrated not to get into Q3, however, we are in a strong position for tomorrow as the first car with a new tyre to start the race.
"Nicholas was very unfortunate in Q1 and having recovered very well from a difficult day yesterday to be sparring with George at the beginning of Q1, it was frustrating to see him miss out on a final push lap at the end of Q1. He was very good today and like in Imola, his mental strength was exemplary. We need to review what we could’ve done better to help him as he prepared for his final push lap, but when there is such a variety of tyre strategies playing out, it is very difficult to manage all of the traffic.
"We have had a good result today and off the back of a strong showing in Imola, this is very pleasing to see. The Team are working well together and are enjoying putting pressure on our competitors. There is a long race ahead tomorrow, but we have got George into a very good position to continue the push to score points. Nicholas too, although further back than he would’ve liked, is in a position to make good progress during the race."
Both cars into Q2 was an improvement on Imola, but a gamble with running the medium compound tyres in Q2 didn’t pay off and both drivers resorted to a late change to the softs. Ultimately, Giovinazzi came the closest to the top 10 despite having had less practice time here than his team mate. With a Williams up ahead as the first target and a car that has strong race pace, points are not out of the question for the Italian tomorrow.
Kimi Raikkonen, 15th, 1:19.812
“We could have got a better result today as we had made a step forward compared to yesterday, but unfortunately we couldn’t put a lap together in the final run. I missed one corner in both my laps on the last set of tyres in Q2 and P15 is what you can expect when this happens. We’ll try again tomorrow: we know it’s not going to be easy, but we will give our best and see where we end up at the end of the day.”
Antonio Giovinazzi, 12th, 1:19.216
“I am happy with P12, especially because it shows how much we’re progressing: we were very close to a place in Q3, but at least we can choose our optimal strategy tomorrow. The car felt much better today than yesterday, even though the conditions were still very tricky. We seem to have regained the pace we showed in Bahrain after some bad luck in qualifying in Imola, but now we have to make it matter on Sunday. We need the right strategy, a good start and a good race: our pace looked good yesterday, so we can have some fun. I am looking forward to it.”
Frédéric Vasseur, Team Principal
“Putting both cars in Q2 was the minimum objective for today, and we achieved it: to fight for a place in Q3 with Antonio shows how much of an improvement we made overnight, so big credit to the team for turning our single-lap performance around after a difficult Friday. Antonio felt really good and delivered two strong laps in Q2 to finish only a little more than a tenth away from the top ten; Kimi was on course to have a similarly good time on both his runs, but unfortunately couldn’t get the lap together. Still, to have two cars in a battle for a place in Q3 is a positive step. We start tomorrow with free choice of tyres and aiming to be in the battle for the points from lights to flag: our race pace looked promising yesterday and we need to translate it into a good result.”
Another tough day for the team, with the VF-21 still well off the pace at the back of the field. After spins for both drivers in FP3, they did at least have a cleaner session in Q1. Schumacher once again got the better of his team mate, to the tune of half a second, with those two looking set for a race long battle with Latifi in the Williams ahead.
Mick Schumacher, 19th, 1:20.452
“Looking at all the free practices I think we were set for higher, but I think some of the other guys and teams managed to make a step ahead with their second set and frankly we didn’t. It could be anything on this track – you get the wrong gust of wind at the wrong moment; you lose half a second in the first sector. I think in general we can be happy, we’re still making consistent steps forward with each race weekend. There’s a big improvement in ourselves and we should be happy with that. I’m feeling more comfortable in the car with every hour and every day, and that makes it easier for me to jump into the car straight away and be on the pace. That’s something that’s very positive and I’m grateful for the team for teaching me the necessaries to do that.”
Nikita Mazepin, 20th, 1:20.912
“I felt like yesterday was a very difficult day for me as I just wasn’t very comfortable with the track or with the car. We then made small steps in the right direction this morning – which I like to see, they’re the ones that build foundation. Obviously, the wind has picked up here, which was something I didn’t want to happen as no driver likes wind as it makes the car balance very unpredictable, but the grip has improved since yesterday naturally with all the laps being put down. Overall, the car was feeling much better and I think that’s a good place to be – we were quite close to getting the maximum out of it.”
Guenther Steiner, Team Principal
“We had a good FP3, everything was going in the right direction. In qualifying we were a little bit short of not finishing 19th and 20th. I think we’re making progress and getting closer and closer; it just takes a little bit more and we’ll make it not to be last. It’s encouraging how the guys learn and hopefully tomorrow we make another step on that learning curve and finish the race with both cars. That is our aim.”
Mario Isola, Head of F1 and Car Racing
"As they did last year, Mercedes selected the medium in Q3, but this year they were unable to improve on their first Q3 run using the soft, underlining the different ways of thinking that we are likely to see tomorrow. A one-stop strategy is most probable but the teams are likely to have a few different options when it comes to the timing of the stop. Tomorrow the top 10 is split 50-50 as to which tyres they will start the race on, with those starting on the medium tyre having more tactical flexibility but those starting on the soft not at a disadvantage either. Qualifying shows that all three compounds are set to play their part in the race tomorrow, with all of them also being a valid option for the final stint, depending on individual run plans".