Sir Lewis Hamilton found it a “real challenge” to keep control of his W12 during Friday practice at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
For the second successive season Formula 1 returns to Portimao, and last year the newly-laid track proved very tricky indeed for the drivers as they searched for grip.
One year on Hamilton described the asphalt as a “little bit grippier” as he topped the afternoon session, but still the Briton was struggling to keep his Mercedes on the track as the wind and Pirelli tyres proved further inconveniences.
“I think it’s a little bit grippier but it’s very windy today and so everyone was struggling, sliding around out there,” he told Sky F1.
“Everyone looked like they were struggling with their balance out there, so it’s difficult to say whether or not it’s the car or wind or the track, it’s definitely been a real challenge today to keep the car on the track.
“Generally it feels like we came here last year and the tyres were too hard, and coming here again this year with the same tyres, or they are actually a little harder this year, it feels like we have come with too harder of a compound [again] in my opinion.
“I think it should have been mid range, C2, C3 C4, but everyone is on the same ones so we will get through it somehow.”
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) April 30, 2021
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas was atop the morning standings in what was a solid Friday for Mercedes, but the Finn also felt far from stable on the track as he struggled to set clean laps.
“I think in terms of pace it was not a bad start, it is good to see we are there or there abouts, although it is going to be close again no doubt,” he said.
“It is quite a similar feeling to last year, quite slippery tarmac, and especially the rear of the car is feeling pretty loose in places so it wasn’t easy to get clean laps.
“For me personally today the softer we went in the compounds the more tricky the car became, so I expect the medium is the best-working tyre so far.
“Definitely the warm-up phase with the harder compounds it takes time to get them to work, and still tomorrow is going to be really important in terms of qualifying, if you get the tyres right it is going to make a big difference. So that is quite a high priority.”
Although Mercedes were fastest in both FP1 and FP2, Max Verstappen delivered a pair of P2s to remind the German outfit that Red Bull are very much a threat.
And at this stage, Bottas believes the race weekend could still swing either way.
“I think it’s going to be close. It’s hard to say really, for example in FP2 with the softs I didn’t really get a good lap time,” he explained.
“But I think it’s going to be close and could swing either way so whoever finds more lap time overnight is going to be on pole.”