Portuguese Grand Prix – Preview

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Following a brief pause in the action-packed and condensed 2020 F1 season, the field will race at Portimao this weekend which plays host to the Portuguese Grand Prix, Round 12 of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship.

This weekend, the action goes on at the beautiful and exciting track of Portimao that will stage the 17th Formula 1 World Championship Portuguese Grand Prix and the first for 24 years.

The inaugural Portuguese Grand Prix was held at Boavista in 1958 with Stirling Moss winning the race for Vanwall. The next year saw the London-born take another victory at Monsanto, but this time for Cooper-Climax. Next year belonged once again to the Charles Cooper-founded British outfit, but it was Jack Brabham to take the triumph this time out when the event returned to Boavista.

Following three exciting races, the Portuguese Grand Prix disappeared from the Grand Prix calendar for a long period of time. However, in 1984, the sport returned to Portugal with a new venue, Estoril playing host to the fourth Portuguese Grand Prix. McLaren’s Alain Prost crossed the finish line first. The track to the west of Lisbon staged the Portuguese Grand Prix each year until 1996 when the race once again disappeared from the schedule.

The most sucessful drivers at the Portuguese Grand Prix are Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell. Both have three victories at Estoril to their name. Prost won in 1984, 1987 and 1988 with McLaren, while Mansell won in 1986 and 1992 with Williams and in 1990 with Ferrari.

Williams have more Portuguese Grand Prix wins than any other team. As well as Mansell’s double and Villenueve’s ’96 triumph, the team also won with Riccardo Patrese in 1991, Damon Hill in 1994 and David Coulthard in 1995.

As far as the tyres are concerned, Formula One’s sole tyre supplier opted for the most conservative approach by supplying the hardest tyres in the range. The C1 compound will feature as the white-banded hard tyre, the C2 as the yellow medium and the C3 as the red soft tyre. Pirelli hopes that this tyre selection will ensure that the compounds can cope with the uncertain demands of the layout and the new surface.

“For the first time, we head into a double-header featuring two circuits that are new to Formula 1 in its hybrid era: starting with Portimao, which makes its grand prix debut,” said Pirelli’s Head of F1 racing, Mario Isola. „Although Formula 1 has never raced there before, we have some experience of this track through GT and world superbikes, which gives us a good idea of what to expect. It’s an absolutely spectacular venue and we think the drivers will love racing there."

Teams are usually free to chose how many sets they want to have of the compounds nominated by Pirelli for the certain events. That rule has been changed for this year due to the coronavirus-induced difficulties with Pirelli providing each outfit with the exact same tyre allocation. For Portimao, the Milan-based tyre company has made a few changes.

„Portimao is quite demanding on tyres and this could be accentuated by warm weather, which is why we have brought the three hardest compounds. We’ve also adjusted the standard tyre allocation this weekend, with the drivers getting an extra set of hard and one less set of soft. In FP2, the drivers will try out next year’s 13-inch tyres for the first time during the opening half-hour of the session. As usual this will be a ‘blind’ test, so the drivers won’t know exactly what they are sampling.”

The undulating track contains 15 corners and a long straight, with the final very long right-hand corner putting a lot of energy in particular through the tyres. The circuit is quite wide at up to 14 metres, which should help overtaking. The track was completely resurfaced a few weeks ago so the new asphalt is an unknown: which could have different characteristics to the previous surface.

The tyres are subjected to both lateral and especially longitudinal energy demands due to heavy braking, which will provide a considerable challenge. As usual with any new circuit, the data gathered in free practice will be vital in terms of establishing this information and formulating the right strategy.

Following the long start-finish straight, drivers head towards the fast first corner followed by a right-hand medium-speed bend. Turn 3 is an uncomfortably slow-speed 120-degree corner which leads towards a hill. Out of Turn 4, the track starts to descend with the following Turn 5 corner being one of the lowest point of the track. It is not easy to find the right braking spot for this another uncomfortably slow turn.

It is vital to pick up the thottle early when exiting Turn 5 as Sector 2 continues with its flowing section. Although the track is relatively wide at some of its parts, in this very section, drivers have to find the best line for their car and their driving style to maintain a good flow and rhythm through Turns 6 – 10.

The last segment of the 4.653km Portimao track begins at the exit of Turn 11. The undulating and the flowing nature of the circuit once again means that drivers need a perfect line and a perfect setup to snake through these medium-speed flowing corners. The last corner, the Galp is a very long right-hand corner that is expected to be taken flat out with the F1 cars.