F1 fans may well have something they haven’t experienced for a while this season – a close title race between drivers from different teams.
The first two races have been won by world champion Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at Imola after the other driver took pole at each event.
Hamilton’s dramatic run to second place in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix after spinning off and going a lap down has left him one point ahead in the standings going into the third race of the season in Portugal.
Portimao hosted an F1 race for the first time last season when Hamilton led home Valtteri Bottas in a Mercedes one-two with Verstappen third, but the Dutchman is vying for favouritism with Hamilton this time – the pair are each priced at
13/10 for the race win at the time of writing.
Mercedes can probably count themselves fortunate not to be further behind after Red Bull failed to maximise their performance advantage at the first race in particular, but the twisty nature of the circuit should suit the Red Bull car and Verstappen can have high hopes of regaining the lead in the title race.
Overtaking under DRS on the main straight proved a little too easy last season, so the activation zone has been shortened this time, but a second DRS zone has been added.
Troubled Starts for Wingmen Bottas and Perez
The idea that there might be four cars scrapping out at the front this season has not yet come to fruition with Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull new boy Sergio Perez managing just one podium finish between them in the first two races, but Perez, in particular, is capable of better this week.
Bottas has a new chassis after destroying his car in his smash with George Russell at Imola. Perez has had a nightmare in each of the first two races, finishing fifth in Bahrain after having to start from the pitlane, and coming 11th after qualifying on the front row for the second race, but the Mexican looks the better bet for a podium finish at
11/10 this week.
Best of Rest Race is Likely to be Lively
McLaren’s Lando Norris is third in the championship after finishing fourth and third in the first two races and the British team could be heading for a battle with the improved Ferrari outfit to be the best of the rest this season.
Charles Leclerc was fourth at Portimao last year – the last driver not to be lapped by Hamilton – and this year’s car is much more impressive.
Alpha Tauri have also shown plenty of pace and with Williams and Alfa Romeo looking more lively this season, the midfield scraps for the minor points should be entertaining throughout the season.
Canadian Lance Stroll has shown up well against new team-mate Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin and he may be worth backing for a points finish at
11/10 having come 10th and eighth at the first two races.
Veterans Struggling to Get Comfortable with New Teams
Vettel, at Aston Martin, would have hoped for a lot better than two 15th-place finishes in his first two races, while Daniel Ricciardo is being outpaced by Norris at McLaren as they struggle to get to grips with their new cars.
Ricciardo is unquestionably a major talent, but he suffered the indignity of being asked to let Norris past as he was holding him up at Imola and he then saw the British youngster disappear into the distance. Both have machinery capable of taking them towards the fight at the front, though, and they were both in the points in this race last season.
*All odds correct at time of writing