Thursday, October 22nd and the first announcement was Romain Grosjean was leaving Haas at the end of 2020. That in itself was a surprise, only to be compounded inside a half-hour that Kevin Magnussen also would be jumping ship. What this means for the American outfit is one year with two new drivers, of whom it’s rumored that Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez have not been approached at the time of writing.
Grosjean is said to have expressed interest in joining Peugeot’s Hypercar racing project, also slated for a 2022 start time. Magnussen’s next step is not immediately known. In an interesting development for Renault, they’ve invited young Australian born driver Oscar Piastri to test at the F1 level. Having run and won F3 this year, and mentored by former F1 pilot, and fellow Aussie, Mark Webber, Piastri has had a seat tub fitting already. He’s expected to have his first full day with Renault at Bahrain over the last weekend of October.
Free Practice 2 lit up for Pierre Gasly. He’d been getting some good times in FP1, seeing his name as high as 10th, and coming into one of the final corners in his second practice, Gasly reported a complete loss of power. After pulling his AlphaTauri over and exiting the car, the rear burst into flames. Asked after the session when he’d become aware that there was an issue with his car, Gasly replied: “Literally five seconds before I stopped, I just lost everything, the steering, all the electricity in the car.”
FP2 also saw Lance Stroll back in his Racing Point after missing the last race after what turned out to be a case of Covid. He and Max Verstappen came together, both on hot laps, and after Gasly’s car had been removed. Heading into turn 1 it appeared that Verstappen was in the blind spot for Stroll, and it was, according to the stewards later, a “racing incident”.
Qualifying and it looked good for Valterri Bottas. he was faster than Lewis Hamilton in all three practice sessions, quicker in Q1 and Q2, and was in the prime position for pole until the last gasp run from Hamilton saw the reigning champion sneak through by a tenth. Said Hamilton: “Yes, we’ve got a great car, but you have to drive the nuts off of it to pull out the lap. Valtteri’s been so quick this weekend, he’s topped every session, so I’ve just been digging and digging and digging and trying to find that extra time.” The time was 1:16.652. Verstappen clocked 3rd ahead of Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Alexander Albon, Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris, and Pierre Gasly in his repaired car. Daniel Ricciardo spun in Q2 but his clocked time was enough for P10.
Teammate Esteban Ocon will start behind him in P11 after bailing out on his hot lap late in Q2, with Lance Stroll Kvyat, and George Russell beating Sebastian Vettel. Kimi Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi, Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen, and Nicholas Latifi round out the field. From P4 to p15, all cars were in the 1:17 bracket. The gap from Raikkonen to Latifi was a half-second.
Ricciardo’s spin was a racing incident also; in an attempt to pass another car on the outside entering a right-hander, his rear rubbers lost grip and in a 180-degree rotation he went backward into the gravel. he was able to drive out but his Q2 was done.
That pole position for Hamilton sets him up for his attempt to break the record for most wins. On 91, alongside Michael Schumacher, he has to deal with a circuit he called one of the most challenging tracks he’d ever driven. It may well have been a challenging track but it did not stop the Briton from claiming his 92nd career win from his 97th pole position. Although headed by Bottas, and briefly Carlos Sainz, until lap 20, one in charge and in front, Hamilton controlled the race to create history, winning ahead of Bottas and Verstappen.
Early rain created havoc for the field, however, all but Lance Stroll finished the race, going out after 51 laps. Stroll also copped a five-second penalty for tangling with Lando Norris on lap 19. It was a virtual repeat of the incident with Verstappen during practice, with a move that failed due to not providing safe clearance. The first lap saw Hamilton uncharacteristically hang back and was lucky to avoid an incident that saw Perez turned around by Verstappen. The stewards deemed this to be a racing incident. Verstappen’s start on softs gave him good pace early at Portimao, however by the time he pitted for mediums, the race was done in the respect of how far ahead the two Mercedes drivers were.
Sainz started on softs and held the lead until lap 6. He would be passed a lap later by Hamilton, who would then sit in the slipstream of Bottas until making his move at lap 20. Verstappen passed Sainz, as the Spanish driver’s rubber continued to fall away, on lap 8. Kimi Raikkonen went from 16th to sixth with some typically daring moves but the 41-year-old Finn started to drift back whilst Charles Leclerc finally had smiles for Ferrari by lap 10, finding himself in 5th. He’d continue that good form to finish the 66 lap race in 4th, ahead of Gasly, Sainz, and Perez. Points, too, for Vettel, who managed to finally drive a clean race and P10 would be his. He was challenging both Ricciardo and Ocon but the pace of the Renaults, although not as quick as expected, was enough.
Esteban Ocon outraced his teammate Daniel Ricciardo thanks to a mammoth, almost full race stint, on his starting rubber. 55 laps would be the distance covered before finally pitting, with his Renault finishing in P8, ahead of Ricciardo in P9.
For the two Haas drivers, it was a formation finish with P16 and P17 for Magnussen and Grosjean, no doubt the news of their firing from the team weighs on the minds. Daniil Kvyat has a day to forget in his P19 finish and also a five-second penalty for exceeding track limits. Nicholas Latifi continued to underdeliver with P18 in his Williams. For P11 it was Kimi Raikkonen, beating out Albon and Norris. George Russell in P14 managed to keep a fast-finishing Antonio Giovinazzi at bay, with the Alfa Romeo team seeing increasing pace with each F1 round.
Portugal’s Portimao circuit has etched itself into the F1 history books as the track that saw a record fall and Lewis Hamilton is now the race win leader. He typically acknowledged his team for their efforts, but he should also thank himself as he finished the race with a severe cramp in his right leg. He has just a few days to celebrate with his father, step-mother, and his beloved dog Roscoe before this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola. Race start is 13:10 local on Sunday, November 1. Of the record, Hamilton said only: “It’s going to take some time to sink in, I can’t find the words.”