Two weeks after the Nürburgring GP, Formula One gears up for its eleventh appointment of the year this weekend (23-25 October) with the Portuguese GP, eleventh round of the season.
In this most unusual of seasons, the Portuguese round returns to the calendar after 24 years, to fill in for other Grand Prix cancellations caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The actual venue hosting the first Formula 1 race in Portugal since 1996 will be the Autodromo Internacional del Algarve, a track that will be making its debut in the Formula One World Championship.
The track, also known as Circuit of Portimao, is well known for its abrupt and numerous changes in elevation. These undulations generate blind angles in the curves making these a lot more complex than usual to contend with.
This particular ‘roller coaster’ of a track, has only one very long straight -the only DRS point- mixed with a great variety of curves and bends.
To deal with these challenging singularities, Pirelli has selected its toughest range of compounds: C1 white (hard), C2 yellow (medium) and C3 red (soft). Not only the severe demands posed by the racetrack but also the high temperatures expected on the day (around 25º C) have informed such a conservative choice.
For the same reason, the Italian manufacturer will, for the first time in the season, change the allocation of the 13 standard sets of tires available for each driver: seven sets of softs, three mediums and three hards. This is to better meet the demands of the track on the rubbers which can suffer very high lateral loads.
Mercedes: The absolute favourite
Despite Portimao being an uncharted territory, Mercedes remains the absolute favourite. The German brand will, in fact, have its first opportunity to win the Constructors Title this weekend in Portugal.
At a personal level, Mercedes’ star driver, Lewis Hamilton, will attempt to become the F1 driver with the most victories in history, taking over from Michael Schumacher and his 91 triumphs, which he matched in Germany.
Hamilton has grown his leadership of the standings to 69 points after his teammate Valtteri Bottas abandonment at Eifel. If everything goes according to plan, the Briton will soon have the seventh crown at his fingertips for another of his coveted milestones drawing up level again with The Red Baron.
A favourable venue for Red Bull
After having secured their second place in the team standings, Red Bull will be eager to bag their second win of the season after Great Britain.
Max Verstappen will try and work his magic at the twisty track, so suited to the RB16. The poor performance of his teammate Alex Albon, for whose seat there is already a long list of candidates according to rumours, the Dutchman is the only real card worth playing by the team.
Ferrari: To keep on improving
Charles Leclerc’s fourth place in Germany has lifted the spirits in Ferrari. The Italian maker faces the Portuguese GP appointment with the aim to continue improving its performance. They are also introducing some fine-tuning of the floor which will add up to all of the previous adjustments.
Both the Monegasque and his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, however, will struggle to make it to Q3. They would have to be content with just adding a good handful of points.
The midfield: Racing Point, McLaren and Renault just six points apart
To make up for the lack of excitement at the elite end of the Championship, one just has to take a look at the midfield where contenders are closer to each other than ever. Racing Point will be defending tooth and nail their third place in the standings, from which they dethroned McLaren in Germany by 4 points.
Meanwhile, the team from Woking is under serious threat from Renault who is out to hunt them just two points behind. The morale of the French team has skyrocketed after their podium at the Nürburgring.
Images of Portuguese GP: Mercedes AMG.