Hamilton predicts 'dogfight' after 'terrible' opening day

Portimao (Portugal) (AFP) –


Lewis Hamilton forecast "a dogfight" to survive on Saturday after struggling with "terrible" car balance on his way to eighth place in Friday practice at the Portuguese Grand Prix.

The six-time world champion, who is seeking a record 92nd career victory in Sunday's race at the new, slippery and undulating Algarve International Circuit, said he had had a "massively challenging" day as Portugal began hosting a Grand Prix weekend for the first time in 24 years.

Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who is notably quick to adapt to low-grip tracks with a tight configuration, topped the times in both Friday sessions, extending his supremacy in opening practice to a sixth consecutive Grand Prix.

"It's a good start, but there is a lot of work to do," said Bottas.

Hamilton leads Bottas by 69 points in the drivers' title race as he closes in on his record-equalling seventh drivers' championship.

"It's a difficult circuit," said Hamilton. "Massively challenging. The undulations are incredible. There's a lot of places where you just can't see where you're going.

"The exit of turn eight -- you're looking at the sky for a period of time and you have no idea what's beyond the hill. Also, into 11, you're coming in and you don't know where you are...

"All of a sudden, it arrives at you out of nowhere, so it's very challenging.

"The surface is very smooth. You see a lot of people making mistakes and sliding and spinning -- so it's not been an easy day."

He added that the opening session was better, even though he struggled with the car set-up.

"We made some changes and it felt pretty terrible in second practice, so I need to take a few steps back, figure out where I went wrong with the session and where I can improve for tomorrow."

Hamilton added that the second session, in which there were two red-flagged interruptions, had left him sitting for long periods in the Mercedes garage.

"They're quite slow on the recoveries today so we ended up sitting in the garage for much, much longer," he said. "It's been difficult. Not an easy day..."

He added that he feared qualifying would begin with a crowded track, making it difficult to find room to clock a fast lap time.

"I think for Q1 particularly, there'll be a lot of cars out there and it'll be a dogfight to get a position, to get a clear lap, but that's what we do... Everyone's in the same boat."