Valtteri Bottas grabbed pole position with a 1m18.344s, 0.007s ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton to lock out yet another front row in this V6 era.
As the 20 cars came out on track all at once, finding a clear track was almost impossible. After the field had spread out and everyone had a decent run for their qualifying stint, it was Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz who topped the charts with a 1m19.480s. Surprisingly, both Bottas and Verstappen couldn’t beat Sainz’s time in their first run, and Hamilton had his lap time of 1m18.726s deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 1.
Six minutes from the end of the session, Red Bull‘s Sergio Perez ran wide and hit the gravel at Turn 4. The tail-wind in that part of the track was so strong that Perez’s rears snapped and sent him spinning into the gravel. Alpine‘s Fernando Alonso ran wide at Turn 14 as the wind challenged drivers throughout the session.
With the gap between the bottom five and the midfield runners at a significant margin, McLaren, Red Bull, and Ferrari opted to sit out the rest of the session. As the clock hit the one-minute mark left for this first session, drivers in the bottom half of the field started improving their times drastically. It was more due to weather evolution than track evolution. The wind stopped gusting at crucial parts of the track that allowed drivers to gain a massive chunk of time over their previous runs.
Getting knocked out at the first hurdle was Daniel Ricciardo, who finished sixteenth after he couldn’t get around fast enough on his out-lap and missed the checkered flag by a few seconds. Along with him, Aston Martin‘s Lance Stroll, Williams’ driver Nicholas Latifi, and the Haas duo of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were eliminated.
The second qualifying session started with the frontrunners all opting for the medium tyres. Even the Ferrari drivers went with the medium tyre compounds. On the other hand, McLaren, Alpine, and AlphaTauri started their session on the softer C3 tyre compound.
Verstappen set the initial pace with a 1m19.099s. But both the Mercs, first Bottas with a 1m18.458s and then Hamilton with a near-perfect 1m17.968s, obliterated any hopes of a Red Bull run in Portimáo. That lap from Lewis was 0.490s faster than any other driver on the track. What was more impressive was that he set that time on the medium set of tyres.
Lewis and Valtteri finished one-two for the session. Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon both set impressive lap times, finishing third and fourth respectively to qualify for the top 10 shootouts. Max Verstappen was 0.682s behind pacesetter Lewis Hamilton, and it should be worrying for Red Bull, given most of the race will be run on the medium and hard tyre compounds.
Ferrari’s gamble of starting the race on the medium set of tyres almost backfired as Charles Leclerc, and Carlos Sainz only managed to get 8th and 9th best times in their first run. While Leclerc remained and persisted with the medium tyres, Ferrari switched Sainz’s strategy and changed his tyres to the softer ones. In the end, Leclerc finished an impressive sixth on the medium tyres, and Sainz improved to finish seventh just behind his teammate.
Sergio Perez did enough to make it to the top 10 shootouts on his medium set of tyres finishing eighth overall. Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly rounded off the top 10. Astonishingly, this was Sebastian Vettel’s first Q3 appearance since the 2020 British Grand Prix, a gap of 15 races which is a record on its own.
George Russell had a mega drive on his Williams to finish eleventh fastest just 0.057s from making his first-ever Q3 appearance in a Williams car. Antonio Giovinazzi had a solid qualifying and will be happy with his P12. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso showed a lot of promise during Friday’s practice sessions but was out-qualified by his teammate, once again finishing only the thirteenth. Japanese sensation Yuki Tsunoda and veteran Kimi Raikkonen rounded off the fourteenth and fifteenth places, respectively.
As the lights went green for the final qualifying session of the day, both the Mercedes hit the track first, followed by Norris and the two Ferraris.
The drivers switched positions, weaving their cars to get the tyres up to optimal temperature. Bottas set the benchmark with a 1m18.348s. Hamilton was right behind him and lost a tiny bit of time while coming out of Turn 14; that was enough as he fell short of Bottas’s time by 0.007s.
Max Verstappen came out last on the track and meant business from the start off. He went fastest in the first sector but lost control of his Red Bull at Turn 4 just like his teammate and ran wide. Despite all of this, he set the fastest lap of the session at 1m18.209s. However, that lap time soon nullified, as he exceeded track limits at Turn 4.
Mercedes were the only team to run the medium tyre compounds as they believed they did not have the pace on the softer compound of tyres. Max and the rest on the field went with the soft tyres. With just two minutes remaining in the session, Mercedes sat one-two at the top of the time charts, with Perez close by in third. Verstappen was tenth with no times set so far.
Both Bottas and Hamilton failed to better their previous best on a new set of medium tyres. At the same time, Verstappen could only finish third, 0.398s behind eventual pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas. Thus the top two teams locked out the first row and the second row, respectively.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz continued his excellent work and finished fifth behind the Red Bull of Sergio Perez. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon will be mighty pleased with his efforts and can expect a good haul of points starting from sixth.
McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will start the race from the fourth row of the grid. Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel rounded off the top 10 for Sunday’s race.