Thursday, December 2News That Matters

Lewis Hamilton denied 100th career pole position by Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in Portugal

We came here to hail Lewis Hamilton for claiming a 100th pole, only to see Valtteri Bottas rip up the script by qualifying seven-thousandths of a second quicker for the Portuguese Grand Prix.

What a shame we had to put the bunting away. Nothing personal, but the Finn’s occasional flashes of success carry as much promise as a night out in Helsinki, in lockdown and without the vodka. He is never going to challenge for the world title if he tries for all eternity, as his record tells us. Whenever he thinks he might just be climbing to the top, Lewis simply stamps on his fingers.

But it was not entirely dull here in the windswept Algarve. Enter Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who qualified third but not before making a typically pugnacious contribution over the radio. ‘F***’s sake,’ he screamed. ‘Why do these guys not move? I am on a fast lap. They are f***ing idiots.’

Valtteri Bottas claimed pole position over his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Portugal

The targets of the vitriol were McLaren’s Lando Norris, who qualified seventh despite hitting traffic himself, and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.

The immediate build-up to the verbals was that Verstappen had set the ‘fastest’ time in Q3 before it was chalked off because he ran wide at Turn 4.

In fairness, everyone struggled badly for grip while the gusty breeze created its own problems, hence Verstappen’s slight detour.

So the Dutchman then needed a fair wind and an empty track on his final hurrah to wrest pole off Bottas but, as his outburst indicated, he got neither and qualified four-tenths of a second back. He shares the second row with his new team-mate Sergio Perez. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon start fifth and sixth.

‘It was very difficult to drive,’ said Verstappen, who cut a dejected figure afterwards. ‘I was struggling a lot with the grip. That first lap in Q3 was decent but I just had a big moment so I went a little bit off-track.

Sir Lewis Hamilton was denied his 100th pole position by his Mercedes team-mate

Sir Lewis Hamilton was denied his 100th pole position by his Mercedes team-mate

Sir Lewis Hamilton was denied his 100th pole position by his Mercedes team-mate

‘It’s not ideal but we’ll try to fight them tomorrow. I hope everything stabilises a bit because up until now it’s not been a lot of fun to drive here. I have not enjoyed a single lap this weekend because the state of the track.’

Those sentiments were echoed by Hamilton, the would-be centurion.

The seven-time champion conjured the fastest time of the day — by nearly four-tenths of a second — in Q2. But, really, he looked uncomfortable for most of the weekend and could not match his best when it came to the shootout for pole position. ‘It was a difficult session,’ said Hamilton, who leads Verstappen by a single point going into the third race of the campaign.

‘It was a messy session for me. Q1 wasn’t good. Q2, I had one good lap, and Q3 was pretty poor, too. Valtteri did a great job.

‘The tyres are too hard for here. They don’t work very well with the surface, so we have to do extra laps to get the temperature into them and at the end I didn’t have great grip so couldn’t do a great job.’

The Finn fought the windy conditions well in qualifying for the Portuguese Grand Prix

The Finn fought the windy conditions well in qualifying for the Portuguese Grand Prix

The Finn fought the windy conditions well in qualifying for the Portuguese Grand Prix

The prospect of more excitement next season was underlined by another fine George Russell performance. The Brit, who has been tipped to be called up by Mercedes for 2022, finished the afternoon 11th fastest, just 0.05sec shy of breaking into the top-10 contest but still delivering Williams’ best qualifying result for three years.

‘I did not expect Q2 after this morning, yet alone P11 on the grid,’ said Russell, who is trying to put his 200mph crash with Bottas a fortnight ago in Imola behind him. ‘We made it happen when it counted, which seems to be the theme at the moment.’ Russell’s compatriot, Norris, continued his outstanding form by again dominating McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo by more than a second. The Australian called his day’s work in 16th place ‘gloomy’.

On a brighter note, it was nice to see four-time world champion Vettel back in some sort of a groove after his travails of recent weeks — and months and years — in making it into Q3. The German dug deep and will start 10th, in contrast to Lance Stroll, driving the other Aston, who was a lowly 17th.

Max Verstappen will start third, having had the fastest time deleted for exceeding track limits

Max Verstappen will start third, having had the fastest time deleted for exceeding track limits

Max Verstappen will start third, having had the fastest time deleted for exceeding track limits

Relive Sportsmail’s Ieuan Ivett’s live coverage from all the action at the Algarve International circuit.