Lewis Hamilton believes the head-to-head battles with Max Verstappen that have lit up the start of the 2021 season will continue through the year, as Formula 1 heads to Portugal and round three this weekend.
With Mercedes and Red Bull’s respective star drivers separated by a single point at the top of the championship with one race win apiece after two dramatic races in Bahrain and Imola, the stage has been set for a season-long championship duel.
“I think this is really the first time in a long time that Red Bull have had a championship-winning car,” said Hamilton after finishing second to Verstappen at the wet-dry Emilia Romagna GP.
“So I think it’s going to be close all the way through the year – and it’s just going to be, hopefully, more and more of these battles.”
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Verstappen, who could take the lead of the world championship for the first time in his career if he beats Hamilton again this Sunday, said: “It’s great to be fighting against Lewis, Mercedes who, I think, as a team, they have been so dominant and they’re very difficult to beat.
“So to be able to sit here now, now two races in a row, we were very, very competitive, that’s very promising but no guarantees.”
This weekend’s Portuguese GP forms a back-to-back with the Spanish GP (May 7-9) and is the first of five races over the next seven weeks as F1 2021 intensifies.
Portimao: Re-entering the rollercoaster
F1 is back in Portugal and the Algarve International Circuit – colloquially known as Portimao, the nearby port city – for the second time in the space of half a year after a successful, and popular, debut for the venue last autumn.
The country had not staged a Grand Prix since 1996 but Portimao jumped at the chance to fill one of the spaces on the heavily-revised 2020 calendar, with the circuit having long targeted an F1 race.
Likened to a ‘rollercoaster’ owing to its undulation and twists and turns, the 2.9-mile lap quickly proved tricky for drivers to master.
An additional challenge at last year’s race was a newly re-laid track surface, which initially offered little grip and triggered numerous mistakes from drivers through practice.
Light rain showers at the start of the race then exacerbated the search for grip and ended up producing one of 2020’s most extraordinary opening laps, as then-McLaren driver Carlos Sainz surged from seventh on the grid to second place. He took the lead a lap later but Sainz was soon shuffled back as Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and, ultimately, Hamilton took control of proceedings.
Hamilton won the race to break the record for the most wins in F1.
How did the drivers react to Portimao’s F1 debut?
Charles Leclerc: “This track is amazing! It took quite a few laps to find the flow, because you don’t really see any apexes but once you get into the rhythm, it’s really good.”
Daniel Ricciardo: “The track is really cool and it’s very up and down with a lot of blind spots.”
Lewis Hamilton: “Incredibly difficult circuit, massively challenging. The undulations are incredible and there are a lot of places where you just can’t see where you’re going.”
So when is the Portuguese GP live on Sky F1?
2pm: Drivers’ Press Conference
6pm: The F1 Show
11am: Portuguese GP Practice One (session starts 11.30am)
2.45pm: Portuguese GP Practice Two (session starts 3pm)
11.45am: Portuguese GP Practice Three (session starts 12pm)
2pm: Portuguese GP Qualifying build-up
3pm: PORTUGUESE GP QUALIFYING
9pm: Ted’s Qualifying Notebook
1.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday
3pm: THE PORTUGUESE GRAND PRIX
5pm: Chequered Flag
6pm: Ted’s Notebook
7pm: Race highlights
PLUS: Watch IndyCar’s double header weekend
The racing action from the USA also keeps coming on Sky Sports F1 with Rounds Three and Four of the new IndyCar season taking place on one weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway, 2021’s first oval. Catch both races live at either end of Sunday in the UK.
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