Max Verstappen went fastest in FP3, o.2sec as he looked to assert himself before qualifying ahead of title rival Lewis Hamilton, with Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez close behind.
Behind the leading four, Esteban Ocon was an impressive 5th for Alpine.
Drivers struggled for grip on the cold Portimão asphalt, with spins for Kimi Räikkonen, Lando Norris and Nikita Mazepin.
With a lack of grip on track, times set may not have been entirely representative as teams will look for more speed throughout the weekend.
Bottas, aiming to atone for his disastrous race last weekend at Imola, went straight out and set the early pace with a 1min 21.829sec.
A conservative compound selection from Pirelli means that teams have been given a selection of harder tyres to choose from. Possibly as a result, drivers were struggling to get temperature into their tyres on the undulating Portimão circuit.
Bottas’ Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton certainly found it difficult to find grip in the Algarve hills, only setting a 1min 22.772sec on his first flying run, heading straight back to the pitlane to make big set-up changes before turning more laps in anger.
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo had no such problems, recording a 1min 21.821sec 45 minutes into the session. The Australian was still getting used to the car though, with his race engineer Tom Stallard giving him ‘coaching’ mid-lap over the radio in a bid to help him find more speed.
Bottas went faster again, as he and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen began to trade laps. The Dutchman went faster on the hard tyre before the Finn took out half a second from him with a 1min 20.506sec.
Halfway through the session and Hamilton had got closer, managing to close the deficit to half a second.
Mercedes switched to soft tyres for the second half of the second, whilst Verstappen stuck to the hards and went quicker still, setting a 1min 20.318sec.
Bottas finally managed to make his C3 compound count by going a tenth of a second faster than that. Ultimately it was the Finn who asserted supremacy with a 1min 19.648sec.
Verstappen was complaining of vibrations late on, saying “These tyres feel like I’ve flat-spotted them for 300 metres! What a joke, I can’t see where I’m going. I’ll just visit the dentist after the weekend.”
The ‘F1 Old Boys Club’ continued its usual conference down the lower echelons of the timesheets: Sebastian Vettel continued to look off the pace in his Aston Martin, setting a time which was only good enough for 15th, with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkonen above him in 13th and 14th respectively..
A good start to the weekend for @ValtteriBottas 👏
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 30, 2021
With warmer conditions than the earlier session, teams broke out the medium tyres for FP2 as the more relevant track conditions arrived.
A delay of 10 minutes due to track repairs ended and the track was immediately busy with drivers eager to begin logging the laps on the race tyre of choice.
Valtteri Bottas set the early benchmark on the mediums, posting a 1min 20.423sec on his fast lap, narrowly quicker than Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton, 0.067sec and 0.085sec off the top time respectively.
Max Verstappen had an early worry, reporting a potential brake-by-wire issue over team radio. He reported into the pits immediately afterwards. He emerged after a short time to go fastest of all on a 1min 20.322sec with 20 minutes gone.
Both Mercedes drivers usurped that time though on the soft tyres, Hamilton heading to the top of the timesheets as the first man into the 1min 19s in FP2.
The track limits were explored by several drivers though it was Nicholas Latifi who was the first to venture into the gravel traps, sliding wide at Turn Eight.
Verstappen’s first effort on softs wasn’t good enough to put him back fastest, instead ending up 0.143sec off of Hamilton’s time but he was well clear of Sergio Perez. The Mexican was languishing in 10th on a 1min 20.516sec, over half a second down on his team-mate.
AWS insights predicted just a 0.09sec gap between the leading pair, Hamilton ahead of Verstappen by the finest of margins on predicted qualifying pace.
Long runs started with half an hour remaining and took up the remainder of the session. Hamilton’s initial low 1min 23sec pace faded on the softs and he was quick to remark the red-walled tyre didn’t feel great on the longer runs.
A race stint beginning in the low 1min 23’s fluctuated up to high 1min 24’s for the Mercedes driver, mirrored by Bottas and Verstappen, each of them on the medium tyres.
Alpine’s fifth and sixth place for Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon respectively will be a big positive for the team to take into Saturday after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
In the end, the top 10 were separated by just 0.7sec. Lando Norris was not in the top 10 as Daniel Ricciardo led the way for McLaren on a 1min 20.4sec.
George Russell’s time of a 1min 20.976sec provided a hint that he could work his qualifying magic again on Saturday to squeak into Q2 once more.
A strong session for @LewisHamilton 💪
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 30, 2021
A track that was 10 degrees colder than the previous day provided a challenge for the field, as drivers desperately searched for grip.
15 minutes in and only five cars had set a time, Yuki Tsunoda topping the timesheets with a 1min 20.997sec on the medium C2 tyre.
On 40 minutes Esteban Ocon had posted 1min 19.672sec to head the field in his Alpine, yet neither the Red Bull of Max Verstappen nor the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas had shown their hand.
Once they did head out, the Virtual Saftey Car was immediately thrown due to high winds blowing over an advertising hoarding, but Verstappen eventually managed to go 3rd fastest with a 1min 19.141sec, before Hamilton topped the table with 1min 18.755sec set on the C3 compound.
Grip was at a premium as Kimi Räikkönen span a full 360 degrees, and drivers such as Lando Norris and Verstappen struggled to put the power down on the exit of corners.
Hamilton began to warm up as he opened the second half of the session with a 1min 18.735sec, before Verstappen then set a time 0.2sec faster than the Mercedes.
The Brit did his best to put his title rival off by slowing slightly when ahead on track, prompting Verstappen to ask over radio: “Why does Hamilton back up so much when he has so much space?”
Bottas and Sergio Perez were 0.275sec and 0.295sec further back respectively, with things looking close at the sharp end.
Verstappen then went 0.1sec faster, which ended up being the fastest time of the session.
Mick Schumacher was mightily impressive, setting 15th fastest ahead of both Aston Martins, the Williams pair and his team-mate Nikita Mazepin, whilst Ocon showed Alpine’s potential with 5th.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 1, 2021