Sir Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the second practice session for this weekends Portuguese Grand Prix after going a tenth faster than the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. The seven-time world champion set his fastest time on the soft tyre enjoying a much smoother afternoon session.
The start of the session had been delayed by a drain cover inspection and once that was complete the hour’s long session proved to be busy with plenty of running. Valtteri Bottas set the early pace with a 20.4 before Verstappen improved by a tenth and then Hamilton managed to find three-tenths getting the time to a 19.8.
The Dutchman improved to a 19.9 for his final time, a tenth behind the world champion, Bottas stayed third a further three tenths behind the Red Bull. This weekend appearing once again as if it is going to be a battle between Mercedes and Red Bull, the gap narrowing between FP1 and FP2 by around six-hundredths of a session.
Many had predicted the close fight between Mercedes and Red Bull, Portimao sees the gap tighten, but Mercedes had a tenth gap which last season would have been enough. But Imola proved that the margins are tight, and anything can happen, even when Mercedes are not far ahead.
The race runs also proved to be similarly close between the top two teams, however fuel loads and setups are unknown but if the opening two races of the season are anything to go by they will be close again this weekend. Alpine had one of their strongest sessions of the year, Fernando Alonso fifth a hundredth faster than his teammate Esteban Ocon.
The team hasn’t been hitting the headlines in the midfield battle in the opening races of the year, but the Portimao upgrade package to aerodynamics has appeared to deliver a step up in performance. Alonso has found it difficult to re-adjust back to F1 following two years away from the sport and this was his best session of the season so far.
Charles Leclerc was seventh fastest the Ferrari driver just over a tenth and a half behind his teammate Sainz. This has to be seen as encouraging for Ferrari after they were struggling to find pace at Portimao in October. Daniel Ricciardo also appearing to be more comfortable with the McLaren going eighth fastest.
Lance Stroll was ninth fastest going four hundredths faster than Sergio Perez’s Red Bull. Pierre Gasly was eleventh fastest ahead of the second McLaren of Lando Norris, who was a tenth ahead of George Russell.
Russell appears to be getting the most out of the Williams and is delivering more than what the car is capable of. The Englishman was eight-hundredths faster than the Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsunoda and the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel. The four-time champion still getting to grips with his car, he was over half a second behind his teammate Stroll.
The Alfa Romeo’s of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were sixteenth and seventeenth, ahead of the two Haas’s Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. They were split by the Williams of Nicolas Latifi.
Mazepin and Latifi were the only drivers to have significant off moments, the Russian bring out the yellow flags at Samsung, early on when he locked up and Latifi also running across the gravel before rejoining.
Again, it appears to be a battle between Mercedes and Red Bull, the question remains how close the top two teams are. We saw at Imola Verstappen getting ahead of Hamilton in qualifying, and then they managed to outrace him on strategy. This weekend appears as if the tyres need two laps to reach the level of performance need to get temperatures into the tyres.
The teams remain close in the midfield and those upgrades have brought Alpine back towards the front and that could suggest they are back in this fight. The battle you need to imagine will be different at each race as we have seen McLaren drop down to eighth and twelfth, but Ricciardo appeared to be more settled today.
Ferrari has also appeared to be good on Friday, this weekend was one of the better ones for the team, Carlos Sainz also starting to get closer to Charles Leclerc. The Spaniard was 0.27 faster than his teammate in FP2 but behind the Monacan by 0.8, things are still early on in this season. I think the gap is narrowing slightly.