Hamilton pips Bottas to take 97th career pole in Portimão

Lewis Hamilton edged ever closer to an incredible 100th career F1 pole position after pipping Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in qualifying for the Portuguese Grand Prix.

After both drivers opted for the medium compound Pirelli rubber to set their quickest times in Q2, it was Hamilton who decided to have three laps on the soft tyre in Q3, and it was only on his final run that he beat the Finn’s time.

Hamilton’s closest rival in the championship, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, was again third fastest in the timesheets, the Dutchman finishing ahead of Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez and Alexander Albon. Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top ten on the grid.

“It’s amazing,” said Hamilton after taking his 9th pole of the 2020 season. “We have British flags here, we have African flags, South African flags. I can’t tell you how hard that was today. Yes, we have a great car, but you have to drive the nuts off of it to pull out a lap and Valtteri has been so quick this weekend, topped every session. So I’ve just been digging and digging and digging, trying to find that extra time.

“At the end there I chose to do three laps to have a chance to have a stab at beating his time and I think he decided to do one, so I was like ‘okay this could provide me with an opportunity’, and it worked. The last lap got better and better as it went through.”

When asked by Sky Sports’ David Coulthard what prompted the decision of three laps, Hamilton said it was necessary in order to match the pace of Bottas, who had been so quick all weekend.

“The team communicated really well with us and gave the option basically to both of us. So we had the choice of going onto the soft or the medium. We both chose to go to the medium, he chose to do one lap, I chose to do three because he had the time. I got out there nice and early and the tyres are very hard here this weekend, we have the hardest of the compounds and getting them to work here, believe it or not, is very, very difficult. So that’s why I wanted to have an extra run just in case the first one wasn’t that great, and it worked perfectly.

The qualifying session was delayed by 30 minutes after a drain cover was ejected onto the track when Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari dislodged it during the morning’s FP3 session. Because the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve is new to the F1 calendar due to the nature of the rescheduled season, it perhaps wasn’t a massive surprise.

“It really is one of the most challenging circuits I’ve been to, and the surface is strange, and I don’t know if the fans know but each surface is different,” explained Hamilton. “This is a very closed, very smooth surface and doesn’t work the tyres the same as Barcelona, for example. So that’s made it incredibly challenging not only to get the front tyres in, but the rears in.

“We had times in practice that the front tyres were working but the rears weren’t. And we’ve had times where none of the tyres were working. So today has been better. But the team has continued to keep their head down and do a fantastic job, so a big, big thank you to them.”

For Bottas, it’s surely a must win race if he has any chance of eating into his teammate’s lead at the top of the championship standings. But the Finn still harbours hopes of doing just that.

“At the end, obviously we decided to go for the mediums based on previous qualifying and the mediums actually felt a tiny bit quicker than the softs, so that was the reason. Then it got to choosing whether we did two timed laps or one timed lap and obviously with the one timed lap you can have less feel in the car but you might struggle with the tyre warm up.

“I went for that because it was my decision to go for the one lap but the two timed laps for Lewis was better. It was a decent lap, not perfect, but its been tricky to get really clean laps this weekend because the way the track is, but I should have gone for two timed as well.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.