Mercedes and their acolytes have gone a little bit quiet about the perceived injustice of the winter aerodynamic rule change in the last week and it’s hardly surprising given the manner in which Lewis Hamilton is hoovering up points of late.
The Englishman’s 97th Grand Prix victory in Portimao was another masterclass of speed and opportunism as he recorded unmatchable and metronomic lap after lap and took his two overtaking chances with rapier-like precision.
“We’ve a lot of work to do,” said the relieved and exhausted 36-year-old on his victory lap as he reflected on another weekend when Mercedes converted a likely losing situation into another extension of his points lead.
The work will continue unabated but it appears to already be producing dividends because, on this evidence, there’s little to choose between the two teams.
Hamilton’s advantage is a narrow eight points after just three races but the perception is that Red Bull are squandering opportunities to establish a cushion while the vast Mercedes engineering think tank in Brackley knocks heads together to come up with a solution to Red Bull’s pace advantage.
From Verstappen and Red Bull’s perspective, there will be frustration at the track limits slip-ups that prevented the Dutchman from starting ahead of Hamilton on the grid and, to a lesser extent, the loss of the point for the fastest lap at the death.
He led Hamilton after the latter was caught out at the early safety car roiling restart and that Hamilton was able to stay in touch and ultimately repass his younger rival will swell the chest of the seven-times champion and frustrate his younger rival.
Meanwhile, as he heads to Spain for next week’s race, Verstappen will probably have to fight not to dwell on the mistake that dropped him from a fight for the lead with Valtteri Bottas into the clutches of Hamilton who immediately pounced to shove the Red Bull behind him.
From that moment you sensed that Verstappen was racing for second. That he duly dealt with Bottas to take second after the pitstops will be some consolation but the straight-line speed and overall pace of Mercedes must be a concern.
Much has been made of the wind conditions and the unique challenges of Portimao, the inference being that when we get to more familiar autodromes things will be a lot more predictable.
Frankly, this observer would be happy with 25 races a year at tracks like Portimao. Elevation changes, blind corners, off-camber bends, and tough combinations make for a terrific challenge for the drivers and great viewing as the cars scrabble for grip.
It could hardly provide more of a contrast to its Iberian neighbour in Barcelona. One of the calendar’s most welcoming cities offers one of the dullest race tracks from a racing point of view.
The teams have terabytes of data for every granule of asphalt around the Montmelo track. Red Bull and Verstappen will hope that the familiarity of Spain will turn out to be good news for their spluttering championship assault.