Mixed messaging comes out of Algarve’s first F1 Grand Prix

With Portimão the epicentre of Grand Prix fever in Portugal this weekend, there has been mixed messaging coming from the tracks.

Sports paper Record proclaims that drivers are ‘captivated’ by the piste, but a short clip carried by the paper suggests otherwise.

“It’s an incredibly difficult circuit; massively challenging”, said British driver Lewis Hamilton.

Yes, the “undulations are incredible”, but it’s unclear from the way he explains this whether this is good ‘incredible’, or otherwise – particularly as he continues the commentary with “there are a lot of places where you just can’t see where you are going…”

This could of course be part of the thrill of a high-speed race. But other drivers also suggest Portimão’s course may not be quite what they were expecting.

“Quite slippy… and eeky”, Mercedes Valtteri Bottas told Record – hinting that the new tarmac put down by Portimão council may have needed a better form of ‘breaking in’ than leaving it to the drivers themselves.

“You have the grip”, he explained. “But once you lose it, you lose it pretty quickly…”

McLaren’s Nando Norris was more forthright: “The track grip in general is just very bad, very poor…” But he agrees, it’s “just probably new tarmac that hasn’t been run on that much… cars all over the place… I am sure every driver will say it in the interviews. It made my life very tricky; it made our life as a team tricky to get a good balance and find confidence in the car”.

Turn eight generally seems to transport drivers to the feeling of being on a rollercoaster.

Lewis Hamilton described “just seeing sky for a period of time”, while Alphatauri’s Pierre Gasly admitted to ‘never having felt like that in a F1 car’.

But these are ‘boy racers’ – the excitement (and the danger) of F1 must be what it is all about to them. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo certainly seemed to accept this… talking about turn eight again, he admitted: “It’s actually pretty cool. It’s blind. You don’t see anything. Even the exit curve: you feel it in the car, but you don’t really see it…it’s challenging, but I do enjoy it”.

With the last race to come this afternoon, images over social media have been equally ‘mixed’.

There are those who talk about ‘excellent safety measures in place’ and those who decry stands ‘full of people sitting far too close to one another and not wearing masks…”

Sol online has carried some ‘shocking’ photographs of people crowded in tiered-seats, including commentary and warnings given over social media.

“Ideological hypocrisy” is one of the criticisms. We are in a situation where next weekend citizens are being confined to their boroughs of residence (some areas are under even stricter measures), yet this weekend, 27,500 people have been allowed to attend a sporting event.

“Either Covid is dangerous and we cannot leave our boroughs to protect ourselves, or it isn’t and any inhabitant of any borough can meet up in Portimão to see Formula 1”, says one of the highlighted posts – while another bemoans the fact that fans are still not allowed into stadiums to watch football matches but they can crowd into the Algarve International Autodrome to watch F1. “The incoherence is getting tiring”, says the commentator.

Sol cites another social media buff thundering: “Zero social distancing at the Portimão Grand Prix. When I bought my ticket – and it wasn’t cheap – I thought the organisation would be responsible”.

Whatever the truth, the ‘results’ will only come clear over time.

That said, Expresso has highlighted the Algarve this weekend as one of the areas where Covid-19 infections are rising most alarmingly.

In an article headlined: “72 boroughs with the highest risk of contagion”, the image of the country has two ‘worrying’ red areas in the west Algarve (Lagos to Sagres) and in the centre.

Bizarrely today tabloid Correio da Manhã claims Alcoutim (in the east) is a danger spot. It is among 34 national boroughs where the rate of infections is considerably higher than the generalised average of 13.5 people per 100,000, says the paper. Indeed, Alcoutim’s ‘average’ is a massive 41.7 people per 100,000 – that is higher than almost every other borough in the country, bar Lousada (where the average is 55.4) and Paços de Ferreira, where it is 99.6.

CM also highlights what it calls “thousands of racing fans disrespecting social distancing” at this weekend’s F1 extravaganza.

Again, it’s a case of mixed messaging which seems to have become the order of the day in pretty much everything.

After numerous occasions where prime minister António Costa has said a return to confinement is ‘unthinkable’, we are now at the stage where he has told reporters it is “absolutely premature” to think about declaring another State of Emergency – but “any type of measure” cannot be excluded.

A bit like the F1, we’re possibly at turn eight in the Covid race, “seeing nothing but the sky” with no idea where we’re going.

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