Valtteri Bottas took pole for Portuguese Grand Prix to deny Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton the top spot by just seven-thousandths of a second. Max Verstappen was in third for Red Bull at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, with his teammate Sergio Pérez in fourth and Carlos Sainz in fifth for Ferrari.
In a session that ebbed and flowed it had looked initially like Hamilton had what would have been his 100th pole nailed on. He was quick in Q2, a full half a second up on Bottas at the top of the time sheets. He did so on the harder, medium, tyre and looked to be absolutely hooked up to the grand challenge of Portimao with its fast and slow sectors, blind corners and swooping elevation changes through the hills of the Algarve.
Yet Bottas had the edge on the first runs in Q3 with both Mercedes drivers on the soft tyres, setting a time of 1minute 18.348seconds, just seven-thousandths up on Hamilton. Verstappen had been quicker but had his time deleted for exceeding track limits.
However when Hamilton and Bottas went out for the final flying lap Mercedes took a chance opting to put both their men back on to the ostensibly slower medium rubber. It was a gamble that did not work out in favour of either driver. Hamilton could not improve and neither could the Finn, whose first lap had been enough to deny the world champion albeit by the slenderest of margins. Verstappen finished four-tenths back, a gap that will be disappointing to Red Bull who have been very competitive here.
The pole will delight the Finn coming as it did with Mercedes having looked to be under the cosh early this season from Red Bull. This is just the start to the weekend Bottas required. He has to challenge now if he is to make it three-way title fight with Verstappen and Hamilton.
Bottas’s 17th career pole position is his first at Portimao. He overtook Hamilton, who had claimed pole here last year, off the start line but was unable to match the world champion’s race pace and he was ultimately re-passed with relative ease. The Finn must make his advantage count this time.
Red Bull and Verstappen are fiercely competitive this season and at this circuit at least there was little to choose between them and Mercedes and the title fight is similarly finely balanced. Verstappen and Hamilton share one win and one second place apiece but Hamilton leads the title race by one point by virtue of taking the fastest lap at Imola.
Last year the newly-resurfaced track offered very little grip and it remained an issue, making tyre preparation and temperatures key in putting together a good lap but when it mattered the Finn had just the control he re quired.
Red Bull had brought an extensive package of aero upgrades to Portimao, the first move in what will become a fierce, season-long development war with Mercedes. Bottas had topped both first practice with Hamilton on top on Friday afternoon but Verstappen was quickest in the final run on Saturday morning. Yet when it mattered, as they have done so many times in the past Mercedes were able to find an entire other level.
Esteban Ocon was in sixth for Alpine, Lando Norris in seventh for McLaren, Charles Leclerc in eighth for Ferrari, Pierre Gasly ninth for AlphaTauri and Sebastian Vettel tenth for Aston Martin.
George Russell was in 11th for Williams. Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen were in 12th and 15th for Alfa Romeo Fernando Alonso was in 13th for Alpine with Yuki Tsunoda in 14th for AlphaTauri.
Daniel Ricciardo was a disappointing 16th for McLaren, with Lance Stroll in 17th for Aston Martin, Nicholas Latifi in 18th for Williams. Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were in 19th and 20th for Haas.
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