Lewis Hamilton extended his title lead to eight points over Max Verstappen with a comfortable win at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
Hamilton dropped from second to third at the start of the race but clawed his way into the lead by Lap 20, and although his ultimate victory margin of 29.148s over second-placed Verstappen was exaggerated by a late pit stop for the Red Bull Racing driver, the world champion was unchallenged in the second half of the race.
Pole winner Valtteri Bottas led Mercedes teammate Hamilton and Verstappen cleanly off the line in qualifying order, but a safety car restart on Lap 7 — the race had been neutralized to collect Kimi Raikkonen’s broken front wing — allowed the Dutchman to slip past the Briton for second place around the outside of the first turn
But the Verstappen’s gain was short lived. A mistake entering Turn 14 on lap 10 brought Hamilton into prime slipstream position, and the Mercedes darted down the Red Bull machine’s inside at the first turn to begin pursuit of the lead.
Hamilton harried Bottas for only 10 laps before forcing the issue with a sweet sweep around the sister car’s outside, pinning the No. 77 to the apex and demoting the Finn to second.
Bottas was struggling on his medium tires, and before long Verstappen was harassing him for position. But his defense was steadfast, and the Dutchman couldn’t find a way through, and as the pair sparred Hamilton was able to inch further into the lead.
Red Bull resorted to strategy to get Verstappen into second, bringing him in on Lap 35 for a set of hard tires. It forced Bottas to follow him in on the following tour to defend against the undercut.
Bottas emerged from pit lane with track position, but his difficult-to-warm hard tires weren’t up to temperature to fend off an immediate assault from the Dutchman, who had an extra lap of heat in his rubber. The Mercedes squirmed through Turn 3, opening the door to his rival to barge past at the hairpin for second place.
Bottas pits and emerges ahead of Verstappen, but the Red Bull gets ahead a few corners later!
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 2, 2021
Hamilton was next in for the hard tire, but with a handy buffer to the squabbling pair behind he faced no challenge upon rejoining the track and was free to extend his lead and ultimately cruise to the checkered flag.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 2, 2021
“That was such a touch race physically and mentally,” Hamilton said. “Today wasn’t all perfect and we need to get ready now for the quick turnaround for Spain.”
It was quickly clear to Verstappen in the second stint that Hamilton was out of reach. As a consolation Red Bull Racing stopped him late for the soft tire to try to score a point for fastest lap, but his best effort was deleted for exceeding track limits.
Despite the disappointing ending, Verstappen said he was happy with the race.
“It was pretty decent,” he said. “Once we settled in second you could clearly see around here we were lacking a little bit of pace compared to them.”
Bottas was a again the beneficiary of Verstappen losing his fastest lap, as the Finn — who took pole position after the Dutchman’s faster time was deleted in Q3 — scored the bonus point for fastest lap at the end of the race. However, he was mystified by his lack of pace on the medium tire early in the race, which he blamed for failing to convert pole to victory.
“It was a tricky day today,” he said. “I don’t know really what happened in the first stint — I just didn’t have the pace for unknown reasons.”
Sergio Perez left his sole stop until late in the race in the hope of an interruption that might offer him the chance of a cheap stop, but nothing eventuated. Instead the Mexican stopped for the soft tire on Lap 50 to finish a rapid but still ineffectual fourth.
Lando Norris returned another strong finish in fifth after a sizzling series of passes at the safety car restart took him briefly to fourth in a dice with Perez. The McLaren driver subsequently settled into the best-of-the-rest position for the rest of the race.
Charles Leclerc finished sixth for Ferrari, two places up on his grid spot, after passing Esteban Ocon off the line and overtaking his teammate, Carlos Sainz, after the pit stops despite running the hard tire to the Spaniard’s faster medium.
Alpine recorded its strongest weekend of the season with seventh and eighth for Ocon and Fernando Alonso.
Returning four-time champion Alonso was particularly impressive for the French team in recovery from 13th on the grid by running long on his starting set of mediums and switching to the hards after 40 laps. It dropped him to 14th, but with a fresh tire advantage he cut like a knife through butter up to eighth by Lap 58.
Daniel Ricciardo finished ninth with a similar strategy in recovery from 16th, although the Australian was less able to find performance from the hard tire despite a superb first stint on the mediums that took him as high as fifth.
Pierre Gasly took home the final point of the race with a penultimate-lap overtake on Sainz to complete the top 10.
Sainz finished 11th in a poor return for fifth on the grid. The Spaniard even snatched fourth off the line but only slipped backwards thereafter until he was finally demoted out of the points. The Spaniard tumbled down the order after his fast start before finally being demoted to ninth as Alonso’s last overtake.
Antonio Giovinazzi was 12th for Alfa Romeo — surviving being clipped from behind by teammate Raikkonen, who trashed his own front wing in the incident to trigger the safety car interlude. Aston Martin teammates Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll followed in the team’s worst result of the season.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda finished 15th ahead of Williams driver George Russell and Mick Schumacher in a composed performance for Haas. Nicholas Latifi came home 18th for Williams ahead of last-placed Haas driver Nikita Mazepin.