The Final Verdict on the Algarve Circuit, Should F1 Return?
F1 visited its second new track of 2020 but did Portugal live up to the hype?
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Portimao, Portugal - The 2020 Formula 1 season has led us to destinations we haven't seen on the race calendar for quite some time or in the case of Mugello and Algarve, tracks we've never seen Formula 1 race around. The crazy nature of the 2020 season has given us a little throwback to the past when F1 used to race around difficult circuits with gravel trap runoffs, exhilarating corners, and physically demanding races. It's been a welcome addition to the F1 calendar as many of the newer generation tracks have fallen quite short of expectation in terms of excitement and quality of racing. So round twelve of the championship headed to a new sunny destination of Portimao, Portugal for 66 laps around the Algarve Circuit. A track that is more like a roller coaster ride with massive elevation changes and off camber corners had a lot of hype and expectation as we headed into the race weekend. After Lewis Hamilton took a record breaking 92nd win at the Algarve Circuit, I'm going to give the final verdict on the Algarve Circuit and whether Formula 1 should return to this track in the future. Of course as always, I'd love to know what the viewers think so leave your comments down below!
The Positives of the Algarve Circuit
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If their was a competition for the most beautiful F1 tracks, it would be a really close race between Algarve and Mugello for that number one spot. The Algarve Circuit was built in 2008 and just recently resurfaced so it looked pristine and polished. The beautiful backdrop of the Portimao city and its wonderful surroundings produced some of the most amazing photos of Formula 1 cars I have ever seen. Of course for the drivers and teams, aesthetics aren't very relevant in terms of car performance although if you are a backmarker team, you probably have more opportunities to enjoy the scenery! When cars hit the track for Free Practice on Friday, the modern F1 cars lived up to the hype of the Algarve Circuit. The downforce produced by these F1 cars made for some amazing cornering speeds around corners such as Turn 1, Turn 7, and Turn 15. Right away from the first session, drivers were struggling to master the challenges of the Algarve Circuit and that is exactly what we want to see as fans. The combination of a new track with a brand new surface proved to be tricky for the drivers throughout every session including the race. What I enjoyed so much about this track is the fact that the driver could really make the difference around here. The lack of data and experience of most of the field somewhat neutralized the competitive advantage of the cars and the drivers came into play more than they usually do at other tracks. The small runoff areas and perilous gravel traps of the Algarve Circuit forced drivers to be more polished in their approach to qualifying laps and face the punishing consequences if they ran wide.
Racing Around the Algarve
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In terms of racing, the Algarve Circuit offered some areas for overtaking but as is common with modern Formula 1, overtaking is quite difficult at any track nowadays. The DRS zone on the main straight was very powerful as many drivers completed overtakes well before they even reached Turn 1. And speaking of Turn 1, that layout provided plenty of drama throughout the weekend as we saw multiple incidents there. First it was Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll coming together in practice, then it was Stroll again who lucked out in the race against Lando Norris. Pierre Gasly showed everyone how overtaking is done at Turn 1 after passing Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz for position in what was a fantastic race for Gasly. The Turn 5 hairpin saw some decent action there throughout the race but possibly could've benefited from a second DRS zone being added there after Turn 4. The brand new track surface really livened up the race as every driver was struggling for grip at some point in the race. I knew the Portuguese Grand Prix was going to surprise us but I honestly did not expect Carlos Sainz to be leading the race after lap 1. In the end, the harder compound tyres turned out to be the best as the likes of Hamilton and Perez were able to do more than 40 laps on the medium tyre despite struggling for grip early on in the stint. Overall, the racing around the Algarve Circuit was good and certainty showed us the potential the track has for hosting future F1 races.
The Negatives of the Algarve Circuit
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No track is perfect and their are certainty some small negatives about the Algarve Circuit. One issue that was evident during practice and sometimes in the race was the tight pitlane re-entry into the circuit. We saw a similar problem at Mugello and luckily it didn't result in any major incidents but it is certainly an area of concern considering the high entry speeds into Turn 1. Another issue was the one and only DRS zone on the main straight that was extremely powerful throughout the race. A possible solution for further races could be to move the activation zone further down the straight so drivers will be forced to execute overtakes under braking. Now we didn't get a crazy amount of overtakes in this race but I believe that was more down to the cars and track conditions. I believe with more rubber on the surface and maybe a step softer compound of tyres, we would've seen more overtakes in sections of the track like Turn 5, Turn 8, and Turn 11. Part of this learning curve comes with heading to a brand new track for the first time ever. You can simulate all you want but nothing beats real world driving on the circuit. Now with more data around this track, would the race be more predictable and possibly end up like a race around Barcelona? It's certainly possible, but I do believe the Algarve Circuit has unique characteristics that separates it from the pack.
The Final Verdict on the Algarve Circuit
So did the Algarve Circuit live up to the hype? I think everybody will have their own opinion but for me, I thoroughly enjoyed Formula 1's debut at the Algarve Circuit. From the location to the nature of the circuit, it was a different flavor to the usual bland car parks that we are used to with some of the new generation tracks. The Algarve Circuit is a track that separates drivers based on skill and bravery and doesn't depend just on machinery. It's punishing both in terms of physicality and mistakes made by drivers. The unique elevation changes and off camber corners really puts a great challenge to the cars and the drivers as well. We don't see many circuits on the current calendar that have as much character and flair as the Algarve Circuit. We also have to consider that Portugal is a phenomenal location and country for Formula 1 racing. It was amazing to see the amount of fans at the circuit and the excitement they showed for Formula 1. In under normal circumstances, the Algarve Circuit would've been even more packed with fans and the cheers of the prideful Portuguese fans most certainly would've drowned out the cars. I would love to see this track return to the F1 calendar for the future as it has great potential for Formula 1 racing. The 2020 season has been unprecedented and we do not know what the future has in store for the F1 schedule. I hope the Portuguese Grand Prix will find a permanent home on the calendar in the years to come as it was a successful debut in Portimao. Circuits like Algarve, Nurburgring, and Mugello show us that the future of Formula 1 race tracks might actually be a step back into the past.