Pit Debrief writers pick who they believe will be crowned 2024 F1 World Champion

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Carlos Sainz – Ewout Albrecht

If there is going to be a new world champion -that is: no active (former) world champion wins the title- it is going to be Carlos Sainz Jr. The son of rally-legend Carlos Sainz has shown in 2023 that he is ready to mount a challenge in 2024, given of course that Ferrari will return to the form of the first half of 2022.

Photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari

The reasons for the Spaniard to take it all instead of his teammate Charles Leclerc are multiple, but the main reason is of course that Jules Bianchi’s godson has apparently sold his soul to the devil for a seat at Ferrari, as the amount of bad luck the Monegasque driver has would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. And I don’t expect his fortunes to change in 2024, so the fan-favourite is out of the picture, unfortunately.

In addition to Leclerc’s bad luck there are of course Ferrari’s strategy woes, but that is something Sainz has taken control of multiple times over the last three years, showing the pit wall he’s the chief strategist of the team and not his compatriot Iñaki Rueda- who has now left the team – or their replacement Ravin Jain. With this in mind all the Maranello-based squad needs to do is build a car that can challenge the Red Bull RB20.

Also in favour of the former Red Bull-junior are his wits, as he showed during his commanding victory in Singapore. Driving around the Marina Bay track he managed his tyres superbly, keeping them alive in case he needed the additional grip. And when Lando Norris and both Mercedes drivers eventually got near he used the additional grip to keep Norris just close enough to have DRS, but never in range for an actual overtake attempt.

The Madrileño’s multi-dimensional chess that day showed he has all the skills to seize the opportunity, should it arise, given he’s not the outright quickest driver in his team, let alone on the grid. But he is one of the most intelligent, in a way that could remind older fans of Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. Will it be enough for the title? Only time will tell, but if development war goes Ferrari’s way, my money will be on Carlos Sainz.

Fernando Alonso — Joel Oliva Pacheco

Aston Martin’s 2024 season hopes are one of the most uncertain facts of the next Formula 1 campaign. The first leg of 2023 was amazing for the green team, and particularly for Fernando Alonso who scored six podiums (plus two additional ones in the Netherlands and Brazil) and nailed some great performances, overperforming most of the Grand Prix.

In its driver level it’s obvious that the Spaniard has more than what it takes to fight for a World Champion, he already scored two titles in a row in 2005 and 2006, and hasn’t stopped chasing the third one since then. He already said that he feels even better than 20 years ago, being ready to challenge whoever it takes to assault the Drivers’ Championship.

The biggest answer is: Can Aston Martin provide Alonso a winning car? 2023 didn’t end well for them, and even though the first part was sweet in result terms, most of the weekends the podium was possible thanks to Alonso’s abilities, if not, maybe they would have been a mid-table team instead to a “close to beat Red Bull” team.

In favour of the team based in Silverstone, it has always been said that they abandoned their peak performance mid-season in order to focus themselves in next season’s car. Well, 2024 it’s here and will dictate if that was the right call, or not.

But if we bet for Aston Martin to have not a dominant car, but just a competitive machinery, we can all agree that the Spanish driver will be one of the main contenders of the season, and maybe the only one alongside Lewis Hamilton or Charles Leclerc to have what it takes to beat Max Verstappen.

Photo credit: Aston Martin Aramco Formula 1 Team
Charles Leclerc — Magdalena Put

Charles Leclerc has momentum on his side heading into the 2024 season.

2023 was a mixed bag for Leclerc. While the Monégasque had some forgettable weekends (and a hefty dose of misfortune), he also had moments of rousing brilliance.

After Ferrari’s championship aspirations fizzled out around halfway through 2022, the hope—and perhaps expectation—was that the Italian outfit would match that level of performance, or even improve in 2023. 

But the coveted rematch never materialised. Red Bull immediately demonstrated their remarkable form, while Ferrari navigated a period of change and uncertainty under new leadership, stumbling through the first few races of the season.

The SF-23 proved to be a capricious beast, with a penchant for excessive tyre wear and a peculiar sensitivity to wind gusts. The car’s technical shortcomings—coupled with a string of blunders, oversights, and unnecessary penalties—saw Leclerc fighting with his hands tied throughout the first half of the season. While he managed to deliver some promising performances at this point (Baku and Spielberg stand out as early-season highlights) he wouldn’t truly flourish until Suzuka.

In Japan, Ferrari introduced an upgrade, overhauling the problematic areas of the car in hopes of producing a more consistent level of performance. This proved significant for Leclerc in particular, allowing him to revert to his preferred driving style. 

The final seven races of the season arguably showcased Leclerc at his best.

Photo Credit: Scuderia Ferrari

When he wasn’t on pole, he was qualifying second, just behind Verstappen—and consistently converting those qualifying results into podiums. But it wasn’t just the results that were impressive; Leclerc was a joy to watch whenever he was in his element. His daring last-lap lunge on Sergio Pérez in Las Vegas was so memorable that it went on to be voted Overtake of the Year. 

Leclerc ultimately cleared teammate Carlos Sainz by six points, leapfrogging his closest competitors to finish 5th in the standings; a result that had seemed unattainable just a couple of weeks earlier. If it weren’t for the disqualification in Austin and the unlucky failure that took him out of contention in São Paulo, Leclerc’s point tally would be even more bigger. 

On Leclerc’s part, the thrilling late-season comeback proved he has what it takes to take the fight to Red Bull. Sure, winning with Ferrari is like catching lightning in a bottle. 

But if Ferrari provides Leclerc with a competitive car that complements his skillset instead of hindering it—and maybe irons out some flaws—we might just witness something special this year. 

Lewis Hamilton – Ryan McGahey

When it comes to predicting a champion, Lewis Hamilton is always a safe bet. The Mercedes man has proved time and time again that he has the drive, the speed and the intelligence to win championships. 

Despite two consecutive difficult season’s for Mercedes, with the team battling against an uncompetitive car, Hamilton has pushed the team every inch of the way with his determination to get back to winning form. Even though Hamilton has failed to secure a race victory since 2021, he has clearly shown he has the pace to do so given the right tools.

Following his worst drivers’ championship finish of his career in 2022, as he worked to improve his W13, Hamilton bounced back in 2023 securing third place behind the dominant Red Bulls having overtaken Fernando Alonso who enjoyed a stellar start to the season. 

Lewis Hamilton overtakes Charles Leclerc at the 2023 Mexican Grand Prix
Photo Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team

If you take teammates as a benchmark, the 2023 season also stands to Hamilton, having comfortably beaten his highly rated younger teammate, George Russell. With standout performances such as the United States Grand Prix, prior to disqualification, and his impressive recovery drive from P6 to P2 in Mexico, 2023 was a stellar season for Hamilton.

With Hamilton still displaying his racing prowess despite being let down by a less than competitive car from Mercedes, it’s only a matter of time before the team get all of their ducks in a row. With a redemption arc on the cards, Hamilton is in a prime position to add another drivers’ championship to his already impressive tally in the upcoming season.

With seven drivers titles under his belt, 2024 could well be the year for Hamilton’s elusive number 8. 

George Russell – Jonah Presser

Okay, hear me out. There is a genuine chance that George Russell can win the World Championship this year. While it may not be as easy to decipher as Max Verstappen’s, George Russell’s opportunity in 2024 presents one for him and for his team: to show that the last few years were a fluke and that they remain the kings of the turbo-hybrid era. While that opportunity is a big focus for the team, it’s up to Russell to deliver the results his team is aiming for. His personal goal would be to show that he is here to stay in a top team and fight amongst the best in the sport and claim his spot at the top. But you might be saying, how can someone who’s only won one race before turn it all around in the matter of one season? Well, his potential success comes from three areas.

Photo credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team

First, the car. If there’s one thing we’ve learned since a decade ago, it’s this: never count out Mercedes. After having their hearts ripped out on a faithful night in Abu Dhabi in 2021, the team has stopped at nothing to get back up to the top. While they did come in a very distant second place in this year’s Championship, it was far better than last year. As well, if their late-year form has anything to say about it, they may make a bigger push and get back to championship winning ways.

Second, the engine. Besides the current RBPT/Honda engine, the Mercedes engine had the most podiums last year. As Mercedes becomes more familiar with the regulations and develops better engines year over year, the cars can continually push ahead of the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull and push Mercedes over the top with Russell at the helm.

Last, of course, is the driver. No one has denied George Russell’s talent. Podiums in a Williams, a win at Mercedes, a pole position, there is so much that George Russell has going for himself. However, there is one person that would stand in his way on his way to glory: Lewis Hamilton. However, as Hamilton has struggled with this set of regulations, Russell has thrived, and therefore brings more hope to Mercedes of being their next champion instead of Hamilton. As well, people will have to realize that a contingency plan needs to be built for a life after Hamiton’s retirement, and devoting effort to Russell will give him the motivation to prove that he is in fact the future of Mercedes. His pedigree since arriving in F1 has been stellar, and it is now up to him to see if he could bring home the ultimate prize.

Max Verstappen – Syrine Ferchichi

In 2022, Max Verstappen not only dominated the Formula 1 season but also set a benchmark that foreshadows his continued excellence in 2023. Throughout the season, the Dutch driver shattered numerous records, showcasing his unparalleled skill and establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with.

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

He secured a record-breaking 19 single-season wins, achieved an unprecedented streak of 10 consecutive race victories, stood on the podium 21 times, amassed a record-high points total of 575, and claimed the championship with a substantial margin of 290 points. Notably, he became the first driver in the sport’s history to surpass 1,000 laps led in a single season.

It is safe to say that the Dutch driver is expected to win the 2024 driver championship title. His outstanding form and the anticipation of his continued dominance make him the favourite among fans and experts alike to secure his fourth championship.

Apart from winning all 24 Grands Prix and six Sprint races, there isn’t much that Red Bull can do better on paper for 2024. With a car that lost only one race this season and minimal issues throughout the year, the team seems to have a straightforward task at hand. Nonetheless, Red Bull remains committed to exploring avenues for gaining an edge over its rivals.

Although teams like Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, and Aston Martin will all want to dethrone Red Bull and compete for overall championships the following season, the stability in regulations adds an additional layer of challenge for these teams in their pursuit behind the Austrian team.