Lewis Hamilton takes rival Max Verstappen to first place in the second practice of the Portuguese Grand Prix

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Elusive to unstoppable: Lewis Hamilton pints Max Verstappen to first place in second practice of the Portuguese Grand Prix … after earlier urging Mercedes to make ‘serious changes’ after a tough early session

  • Lewis Hamilton declared his Mercedes ‘unmanageable’ in the morning session
  • The seven-time world champion finished fifth during the first practice session
  • But he finished 0.143 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen in the afternoon session
  • Behind the top two, Valtteri Bottas came in the other Mercedes on Friday

Hardly a soul was pinned in the stands to the fluffy, sun-drenched grass of the undulating Portimao circuit on Friday when Sir Lewis Hamilton put his name at the top of practice times.

The Brit had declared his Mercedes ‘unmanageable’ in the morning session, while remaining in fifth place, but finished 0.143 seconds ahead of second-best, championship rival Max Verstappen, in preparation for the Portuguese Grand Prix in the afternoon.

Covid restrictions mean there isn’t a crowd to witness the race – even if to those allowed in, the cafe looked like a crowded, overcrowded canteen.

After a frustrating morning, Lewis Hamilton took Max Verstappen in the second practice

Hamilton finished 0.143 seconds ahead of second best championship rival Verstappen

Hamilton finished 0.143 seconds ahead of second best championship rival Verstappen

They might as well have served us a garnish of virus-drizzled salad with our leathery steak.

Indeed, both members of the Dutch TV channel Ziggo Sport are in quarantine after one tested positive for Covid, most likely transferred from home instead of contracted here.

Last October, there was joy as Hamilton won in emphatic style and set a world record 92nd victory, eclipsing Michael Schumacher by one win.

Verstappen, 23, said his car was 'impossible to drive' during the first practice session in Portugal

Verstappen, 23, said his car was ‘impossible to drive’ during the first practice session in Portugal

This weekend, the champion’s demeanor has been subdued, if not slightly opposed. He raised eyebrows between photographers waiting at the paddock gate on Thursday.

His 4×4, driven by his physio Angela Cullen, drove into the parking lot and pointed to the entrance. But after Lewis saw the waiting cameras, Angela backed up and took the less traveled route along the paddock side.

Nobody knows why the evasive games. On Friday, the champion shot back through the side entrance and hid his features as far as possible in a long black Mercedes-Benz coat. Take that, snappers!

Verstappen is only one point behind Lewis Hamilton on his way to the third race of the season

Verstappen is only one point behind Lewis Hamilton on his way to the third race of the season

This strange lack of collaboration with people he knows and has worked with for years was reflected in the press conference when he pretended not to understand a simple warm-up question and asked him to assess the relative competitiveness of his car and Verstappen’s Red Bull. judge.

A sort of better answer was given during Friday’s two hours of practice: there is little to choose between the leading machines, reflecting the early nature of the season.

Only one point separates the pair – each of them has won one of the two opening rounds. In the morning, Hamilton called for ‘serious changes’ to be able to meet Portimao’s ‘rollercoaster’ demands. Even in the afternoon, in a cool breeze, he was not satisfied with the car.

Hamilton himself ran into problems in the first practice and told Mercedes that his car needed 'serious changes'

Hamilton himself ran into problems in the first practice and told Mercedes that his car needed ‘serious changes’

“Everyone was struggling with the balance today,” Hamilton said. ‘It’s hard to say whether it was wind, the car or the track. “I don’t know what Max’s lap was like. Mine wasn’t perfect. I think it will be close. ‘

Verstappen had to contend with his own bumps. “What a joke,” the Dutchman replied over the radio. “I can’t see where I’m going because of the vibrations.”

He said to stop if there was a safety concern, and he replied, “It’s okay, I’ll just go to the dentist when the weekend is over.”

Behind the top two came Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes. The Finn was more than three tenths behind and offered little convincing evidence that he can prevent Hamilton from taking 100th pole on Saturday.

Bottas had pipped Red Bull's Verstappen to go fastest in the first practice in Portugal

Bottas had pipped Red Bull’s Verstappen to go fastest in the first practice in Portugal

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