Valtteri Bottas was fastest by half a second in second practice ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix, the Mercedes driver increased his lead by two tenths from the morning session to finish ahead of Max Verstappen. The session proved to be dominated by two red flags.
Bottas knows with five races to go he needs to start closing the gap to teammate Lewis Hamilton to keep any hopes of a championship alive. Verstappen looked to be the closest to the Mercedes, although Hamilton didn’t seem to deliver a great lap.
The defining moment in the session was a collision between Verstappen at Racing Points Lance Stroll at Primeira causing a red flag. The drama began at the final corner, Galp, when Verstappen was following the Canadian before getting alongside trying to overtake into the first corner.
The stewards investigated the crash and ruled that no further action was warranted after the drivers agreed the “incident was the result of a misunderstanding between them” and that “both could have contributed to avoid” the clash.
Verstappen said in his post-session interview: “I don’t want to talk about it too much. I was so surprised he turned in. I don’t know where I could go. I was just starting my lap and he was just finishing his. We can go on (talking about it) forever but it was just silly.”
Teams already lost the first thirty minutes of the session, they were on defined runs by Pirelli as part of tyre development. Hamilton and Romain Grosjean appeared to struggle on these tyres, drivers were unaware of what compound they were on, both going off in sector three.
Verstappen, however, did finish the session half a second behind Bottas, with McLaren’s Lando Norris third. Charles Leclerc spilt the two McLarens going fourth fastest nine hundredths faster than Carlos Sainz and teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Ferrari’s latest performance upgrade appears at this early stage to have brought them back towards the front, but caution would say it’s likely they will likely drop back in qualifying.
Pierre Gasly was seventh fastest ahead of Lewis Hamilton, the Frenchman’s session was cut short after running through the Turn Thirteen hairpin the Alpha Tauri stopped on track and then burst into flames. That caused a fifteen-minute stoppage, shortly before Verstappen’s issues.
Bottas had just set his fastest lap before the first red flag, he had often set the pace on a Friday this season only to be beaten by Hamilton in qualifying. The six-time world champion never managed to get a reprehensive lap in on the soft tyre before the red flag.
Hamilton described his first experience of driving a current F1 car around the fast Algarve circuit as “massively challenging”, with undulations that were “incredible”.
The lesson appears from all the drivers that they need two laps to get the tyres into the right operating window. Leclerc and Sainz’s late improvements pushed Gasly and Hamilton down to seventh and eighth fastest. Renault’s Esteban Ocon was ninth fastest a second and a half off the pace, being the only driver in the midfield to improve after the red flag.
Williams George Russell put in a good session going eleventh fastest, ahead of Sergio Perez. A late improvement from Daniel Ricciardo could only see him go thirteenth, his run hampered by a Williams exiting the pit lane in the first corner.
Nicolas Latifi was fourteenth fastest, showing that Williams may have some pace in the car this weekend, he was still around half a second behind Ricciardo. Kimi Raikkonen was fifteenth fastest ahead of the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.