The feature the TV cameras really miss about Portimão is its elevation change. There’s an 85metre difference between its highest and lowest points. Stand at the exit of Turn 7, a fast downhill right-hander, and look behind you and down – and you have a great plan view of Turn 3, a hairpin. The aroma of exotic fuel blends drifts up on the stiff breeze.
Charles Leclerc is the first to attack the hairpin on this Friday morning, and the Ferrari on medium tyres doesn’t have anything like the chemical bonding with this gripless surface to match Leclerc’s ambition, but he’s comfortably able to control the consequences. He scrubs the speed off sideways between turn-in and apex.
Turn around and watch him through T7 and the Ferrari yaws early into the turn and gradually takes up a set, the slow change in attitude very much in contrast to the high speed of the corner itself. A Mercedes or Red Bull through here just grips immediately; there is not the same transition in attitude. The difference in speed is probably nothing; the Ferrari isn’t actually losing out on lap time to the lazier change at this point, but it’s probably putting an altogether different load pattern onto each of the four tyres. Some are going into this turn off-throttle, using that to pin the car in. Others are braking earlier and turning in on the gas.
As the session goes on and the surface begins to offer up at least a little more, so the high-grip cars begin to approach this corner in a slightly different way; Lewis Hamilton will take two bites at it, a small initial one then another from part way-across the track’s width when he’s almost at the apex. It’s allowing him to maintain speed for longer into the turn but requires the grip to allow him that late extra input. The Ferrari would only just have got its yaw angle stable by this point. Lando Norris (above) is hustling a McLaren with a high-speed, high-grip understeer, which looks very driveable.
As they exit T7 and brake hard for the tight uphill right-hander of T8, Hamilton has got the perfect rotation into the turn, braking into it but coming off at just the moment the car is ready to accept plenty of throttle. It’s a seamless transition. Max Verstappen is braking later there, but it makes for a messier transition. The telemetry will reveal if he’s gaining more going in than he’s losing coming out of the corner.