The addition of Portimao with fans to the 2020 calendar not only gave me the opportunity of going to my first Portuguese Grand Prix since Estoril 1986, but also of visiting a new circuit.
Back in August the Covid situation seemed relatively under control but I still thought best to play safe and make my arrangements through larger, well established organisations. Consequently I booked a flight with British Airways from Heathrow to Faro and on the advice of a friend who had lived in the Algarve for a while, booked a large 4-star hotel on the coast at Lagos. I also arranged and pre-paid for all airport and circuit transfers not knowing what the situation with public transport would be come the time.
For a race ticket, I always use general admission where available but decided to buy a mid-price grandstand seat on this occasion. And what a wise choice that turned out to be.
Subsequently, self-quarantining on the return to the UK was re-introduced and I spent two months closely following developments as restrictions in Europe increased daily, although fortunately not as yet in Portugal. A few days before the race came the news that the Portuguese government had imposed a drastic restriction on the number of people who could attend. Almost half the tickets sold were invalidated, including all of those in general admission. Then came the headline ‘Shooting on the Streets of Lagos’, but that was a different Lagos.
Flying through Heathrow was a pleasure if you don’t dwell on the circumstances that made it so – parking spaces right beside the entrance of Terminla 5 long-term car park, a semi-deserted departure hall and a half-empty aeroplane.
Transfer from Lagos to the circuit was approximately a thirty minute blast up the motorway to the shuttle bus drop off right outside the main stand. Race Tickets were valid for your chosen grandstand only, each of which had its own entry point, mine being ‘Portimao 2’ up the hill towards the top of the track. On Friday morning, before security arrived and without realising it I wandered into the next section ‘Portimao’ and had to stay there for first practice as I was not allowed back without exiting the circuit and using the perimeter road to my proper gate.
Overall viewing is very good with a high vantage as apart from the main straight all stands are built into the hillside and entered from above. As the Autodromo Nacional do Algarve is tight and twisty with lots of elevation change thus its name of the ‘Algarve Rollercoater’ exactly what you can see varies with your seat. In addition to the section of track in front of you, you can see sections below and beyond and with each stand being only about one third full it was possible to move about and change position.
As expected, the spectator facilities were basic and just as functional as they needed to be. There was no commentary throughout the weekend and a distant screen for our grandstand visible only to those positioned high and directly in front of it. Each area had portable toilets, a small food kiosk and an F1 clothing kiosk. There had been heavy rain prior to the event (Storm Barbara?) so the top walkway was very muddy in parts as were the top few tiers of seats splattered by the service vehicles. Also the seats themselves being individual and moulded plastic had become bowls of water. The hillside slopes were covered with loose stones making it quite treacherous to slither down to your seat row and the spaces between rows of seats had not been levelled so were also something near a 45 degree slope.
There were two support races, the GT Cup and Sports Prototype but no other entertainment at all, no demonstrations, fanzone nor F1 Village obviously to avoid areas where people would gather. However, every day there was a queue of hundreds if not thousands of people for the main ticket office beside the main stand, meeting point and car park which was there in the morning when I arrived and still there in the evening when I departed. Apparently, these were the people whose tickets had been cancelled in the name of social distancing looking for refunds but under the circumstances they may just as well heve been let into the circuit.
As for the race itself, if the practice sessions and support races were anything to go by it would be an incident packed event with several safety car interventions. As it turned out, apart from the first couple of laps when Carlos Sainz’s McLaren mysteriously and unexpectedly appeared in the lead (no commentary nor view of large screen) it was a routine affair with the first four finishing in their qualifying positions.
But at ;east I have attended a Grand Prix in 2020 and saw Lewis Hamilton take Michael Schumacher’s record of race wins.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.