Portuguese GP: Valtteri Bottas upstages Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for Portimao pole position
Watch Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 from 3pm, with build-up from 1.30pm; Valtteri Bottas makes Lewis Hamilton wait for his 100th career pole, while Red Bull finish behind Mercedes as a frustrated Max Verstappen takes third after track limits setback
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 01/05/21 9:57pm
Valtteri Bottas delivered a crucial bounce-back pole position after a tough start to his season as he outpaced championship front-runners Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in Portuguese GP qualifying.
Making Hamilton wait for a 100th career pole for at least seven more days to Spain, Bottas came to the fore in Q3 after his Mercedes team-mate had appeared on course for the landmark after dominating Q2.
Bottas' first attempt of 1:18.348 on soft tyres - a mere 0.007s quicker than Hamilton - ultimately secured pole as neither Mercedes driver was then able to improve on their final attempts when they switched to a medium compound that the W12 had appeared happier on up until then.
Verstappen ended up third, and frustrated.
- Sunday's live Sky Sports F1 schedule for the Portuguese GP
- How the Portimao grid lines up for Sunday
- Lewis Hamilton admits he 'didn't put it together'
Heading an all-Red Bull second row next to Sergio Perez, Verstappen's first Q3 lap time was deleted for running off the track and his second came up nearly 0.4 seconds short of pole.
Had his first time stood, then Verstappen would have been at the head of the grid.
Instead it is Bottas, in big need of a strong race result this weekend after making his worst start to a campaign since joining Mercedes four years ago and crashing out of the last race at Imola in a collision with Williams' George Russell.
"It was the ultimate challenge out there," said Sky F1's Nico Rosberg of the track conditions on a gusty Portimao Saturday afternoon.
"Let's hand it to Valtteri though. He put it all together, when it mattered. Great job by him."
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For the second qualifying running, Verstappen was not able to deliver the error-free lap that could have taken him to the head of the grid.
His first Q3 time of 1:18.209 was ruled out for running over the kerb and outside of track limits at Turn Four. His second did count but a difficult final sector meant he wound up 0.398s adrift of Bottas.
This was despite Red Bull running their cars on the theoretically faster soft tyres all through the final section, while Mercedes initially ran the same and then switched back to the medium compound that had seen Hamilton set the quickest overall time of qualifying - 1:17.968 - in Q2.
Red Bull had trailed their rivals by a large 0.682s margin on the mediums in that second stage and will start on that tyre for the first stint of Sunday's race, along with the Mercedes' and Ferraris.
Perez took fourth in the second Red Bull, recovering from a spin into the gravel in Q1, to ensure the championship challengers at least start directly behind their points-leading rivals.
Best of the rest was the impressive Carlos Sainz, who outqualified new team-mate Charles Leclerc (eighth) for the first time in his third outing for Ferrari.
Esteban Ocon claimed a fine sixth for Alpine on a much-improved weekend for the former Renault team, but team-mate Fernando Alonso's own practice promise disappeared and he missed out in Q2 again in 13th.
Lando Norris was seventh in the lead McLaren on a day team-mate Daniel Ricciardo suffered big disappointment, surprisingly knocked out in Q1 down in 16th.
But there was - finally - some Saturday joy for four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel whose long wait for a Q3 return finally ended with his best result in three weekends for Aston Martin so far. Vettel's previous top-10 appearance came at last August's British GP for Ferrari, 16 races ago.
Like Bottas, Russell delivered a strong Saturday after the events of Imola with the British driver missing out on a first Q3 appearance in a Williams by a minuscule 0.057s margin.
Nonetheless, he will start from a very strong 11th place amid his ongoing search for a first points finish for the Grove team.
Portuguese GP Qualifying Top 10
1) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
4) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
5) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
6) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
7) Lando Norris, McLaren
8) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
9) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
10) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
Bottas takes an unpredictable qualifying battle
Usually the fastest time of an all-dry qualifying session is the one that takes pole position, but it was definitely not the case here during the course of a strange Saturday in the Algarve
Amid sunny but gusty conditions on Portugal's south coast, Bottas was the only one of the top-10 runners to improve his lap time from Q2 in the final stage as the wind increased.
"There was honestly so much time available and just didn't put it together," said Hamilton to Sky Sports F1. "It's really tricky conditions here. The surface of the track is really smooth and not a lot of grip, and with the tyres you need extra laps to get the temperatures even though it's a really nice day.
"One minute you have grip and the next minute you don't. It's tricky for everyone."
Verstappen, who still won from third at Imola, said: "All qualifying was very difficult to drive, struggling a lot with grip.
"I was quite confident we could still do a good final lap but the last sector, the car in front just disturbs you. It cost me a lot of lap time, but it is what it is."
Bottas is already more than 20 points off the pace in the early championship hunt and sounded relieved to take the 17th pole position in his career.
"It's a good feeling to be on pole," said the Finn. "It feels like it has been a while. It was nice to get a good qualifying. It's been the weak point for me in the first two races getting the tyres to work but again this weekend we have been working hard and it's nice to see it's paying off, which means a good position for tomorrow."
Portuguese GP Qualifying Timesheet
|1) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||1:18.348|
|2) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+0.007|
|3) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+0.398|
|4) Sergio Perez||Red Bull||+0.542|
|5) Carlos Sainz||Ferrari||+0.691|
|6) Esteban Ocon||Alpine||+0.694|
|7) Lando Norris||McLaren||+0.768|
|8) Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||+0.958|
|9) Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri||+1.127|
|10) Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||+1.311|
|Knocked out in Q2|
|11) George Russell||Williams||1:19.109|
|12) Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:19.216|
|13) Fernando Alonso||Alpine||1:19.456|
|14) Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri||1:19.463|
|15) Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:19.812|
|Knocked out in Q1|
|16) Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren||1:19.839|
|17) Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||1:19.913|
|18) Nicholas Latifi||Williams||1:20.285|
|19) Mick Schumacher||Haas||1:20.452|
|20) Nikita Mazepin||Haas||1:20.912|