Predicting the F1 2024 pecking order ahead of the Bahrain GP

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1) Red Bull Racing — James O’Connor

The Milton Keynes-based team head into the new season as favourites.

From the get-go in testing, their car was fast. Three-time World Champion Max Verstappen was fastest by over a second on the opening day. Such was the strong pace, it even brought a big grin to the face of his race engineer GianPiero Lambiase.

On Friday evening under the lights, Verstappen looked very strong during his three stints on the C3s, C2s and C1s. In fact, it’s believed Red Bull ran a low mode engine mode and refuelled between each stint to mask their full potential.

Although Ferrari set the fastest time of testing, Red Bull Racing look to be the strong frontrunners heading into the new season.

It will be quite a surprise if Max Verstappen doesn’t go on to win in Bahrain and claim his fourth consecutive Drivers’ World Championship. For Sergio Perez, getting closer to his teammate has to be the aim.

2) Scuderia Ferrari — Syrine Ferchichi

Despite Carlos Sainz setting the fastest lap overall in Bahrain last week, clocking in seven-tenths quicker than Sergio Perez’s benchmark time that was set that same afternoon, there’s a consensus that Ferrari is still playing catch-up to the Red Bull team.

The exact margin of this deficit, however, remains uncertain due to indications that Red Bull may have been running in a lower power unit mode during testing.

During the third day’s race simulations, Charles Leclerc demonstrated how Ferrari has enhanced its race pace compared to the previous year. However, it still fell short of Max Verstappen’s lap times on the C3s, who appeared to be holding back in the second and third stints as Red Bull refuelled the car before them, suggesting potential for further performance gains.

Carlos Sainz’s race simulation on the second day highlighted a significant improvement in managing tyre degradation as well, a major issue that plagued Ferrari’s 2023 campaign.

Sainz maintained consistent performance throughout, notably in contrast to the Bahrain Grand Prix the previous year, where both he and Leclerc struggled with severe tyre degradation.

In summary, Ferrari appears to have bolstered its competitiveness for the upcoming season. However, expectations for Ferrari to contend for the championship title are tempered.

3) Mercedes — Nicolas Lopes

Mercedes was one of the teams that completely changed the concept of the car compared to 2023, completing a move that was started in Monaco last year, when it ditched its ‘zeropod’ design over a more conventional downwash style sidepod shape. The team couldn’t fix all of its problems in-season due to limitations with the budget cap and architecture of the W14, so instead focused on bringing all of its major intended revisions to the W15.

The move to a push-rod rear suspension and the repositioning of the cockpit further back were some of the main headlines, along with its clever front wing trick that many questioned but was ultimately deemed legal by the FIA.

Mercedes’s lap count over the three days was nothing special, with 360 laps on the board leaving the team 7th in total distance run.

But its fastest times — and more importantly long runs — looked very competitive, as did the car behaviour, which both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell praised for being more predictable and nicer to drive.

It remains to be seen whether the team has fully got rid of the issues which halted its progress over the last couple of seasons, but there are encouraging signs from testing that they could be in for a much better season this time around.

4) McLaren Harshpreet Kaur

This time last year, the situation at McLaren was dire. There were rumours about Lando Norris feeling extremely angry after testing. Nothing seemed as though it was working according to their expectations. The mood was grim.

However, they quickly turned that ship around.

From the mechanical DNF of Oscar Piastri, and Lando Norris’ six-stop race in Bahrain to consistently making podium appearances Silverstone onwards. McLaren managed to flip the script, impressively and efficiently. Oscar Piastri won the Qatar Sprint.

There has been a considerable amount of hype around McLaren since Silverstone last year — and it is justified, perhaps, but not to this extent.

Towards the tail-end of last season, they were expected to be the second best team, but Ferrari took that spot more often than not — Charles Leclerc went on a five front-rows start streak in the last five races, even on the tracks which should have preferred McLaren.

This testing season, there was a subtle calmness around the team. They kept their heads down, ran through their planned programs.

Although, they ran into reliability issues on Day 2 of testing, which seems a bit concerning. It hindered their run plans — Lando Norris could not do a race simulation. While Oscar Piastri’s race runs seem marred by tyre management issues compared to Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari on Friday evening.

By Norris’ own admission, they are “quite a chunk behind Ferrari.” There seems to be substantial amount of work the team has to catch up with the front end of the grid. The good news is, they are starting from a better base than they did last year. The bad news is, they probably will not be making as sizeable gains as they did last season.

We, however, cannot place them above Mercedes — both the McLaren drivers are chasing that prestigious spot on the top step at the end of a Grand Prix.

5) Aston Martin Ryan McGahey

Aston Martin enjoyed a stellar start to the 2023 season, with the experienced hands of two time champion Fernando Alonso in particular. While the Silverstone based team’s AMR23 saw a drop in competitiveness during the second half of the season, they will surely have high hopes for this year’s revised AMR24.

While both Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso failed to set the time sheets alight during pre-season testing in Bahrain, with neither driver breaking into the top ten lap times across the test, the team will surely be aiming to improve on their solid performance from last season and take another step towards the front of the grid. After all, testing times are often misleading.

Despite the ambition and capital investment made by the team, who began a move to an all new Silverstone base in mid 2023, their performances in the second half of last season coupled with improvements from rivals such as McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari would suggest the team will struggle to continue their upward trajectory.

Official statements from the team seem to suggest they have faith in the competitiveness of the AMR24. Technical director Dan Fallows said the team have made a clear step in the right direction over the AMR23. Speaking in a media session in Bahrain during testing, he said the team was “pretty pleased with the outcome” of their three day test.

With the dominance of Red Bull unlikely to be rivalled, however; at least in the beginning of the 2024 season, and Ferrari and Mercedes hot on the tracks of the champions, it’s unlikely we will see consistent podium finishes from Aston Martin in 2024. While the team may well be able to capitalise on issues from the front running teams to secure strong results, title contention seems slightly out of reach for the team — at least at the moment.

6) RB F1 — Rachel Stephens

Sporting a new name, new brand, new livery, and a secure driver line-up, Visa Cash App RB Formula One Team (RB F1) is the dark horse of the F1 paddock this coming season.

After starting last year’s season (branded as AlphaTauri) as the slowest team, with the slowest car, and slow corner entry stability, 2024 appears to be starting on a much brighter note.

Despite Daniel Ricciardo acknowledging that “there’s definitely some work to do to catch the front guys” following pre-season testing, their lap times, experience, and pace following a closer tie-up with Red Bull Racing is poised to shake up the paddock, and the expected performance line-up.

The team completed 367 laps throughout the pre-season testing period and after Yuki Tsunoda’s stellar performance at testing on the C4 compound, with a 1:30.775, he ‘finished’ seventh overall in the stats. Ricciardo’s fastest lap was also on the C4; his time of 1:31.361 placing him 13th fastest.

With Ricciardo, an experienced eight-time Grand Prix winner, and Tsunoda, a relentless driver filled with youthful vigour, the team’s future is looking promising. Ricciardo brings a wealth of knowledge, likely guiding the team’s direction, whilst Tsunoda’s eyes are set on points (and maybe a maiden podium?) in the VCARB 01.

7) Alpine Nicolas Lopes

Alpine had a fairly regular test for their standards going by recent years – solid but unspectacular. Between the three days, the A524 logged 333 laps in the hands of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, which puts the Enstone squad a lowly 8th in total mileage covered during the test.

And it wasn’t much different in terms of headline times, with both Gasly and Ocon setting times just over 1.4s slower than the Red Bulls on comparable time of day and lower fuel, performance-focused runs.

However, what should be more concerning for the team is the lack of any apparent progress relative to the field despite

bringing a car which team principal Bruno Famin described as only keeping the steering wheel from last year, with everything else being brand new.

With the likes of RB and Williams making some tangible progress, it’s hard to see Alpine anywhere near the battle for best-of-the-rest behind Red Bull, which would keep the Enstone squad firmly in its happy place of constant mediocrity in the last couple of seasons, as it enters the first year after major departures on the technical and management side, namely Alan Permane and Otmar Szafnauer.

8) Williams — James O’Connor

Williams will tackle the 2024 season with a very different car. At the request of their impressive team principal James Vowles, the Grove-based has made quite a lot of changes to the FW46 as they look to be more competitive and start to become a solid midfield team in the short-term.

Speaking at a season launch earlier in this month, Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant explained just how different the car would be. During the Bahrain test, the Thai admitted that it felt like he was driving for a new team such was the radical changes to the 2024 package.

Testing wasn’t ideal for the Grove-based squad as they had a few reliability issues with the car.

It would be impressive if they figure out the car quickly for Bahrain and fight for points. As they learn more and more about the FW46, they should get stronger.

Logan Sargeant also needs to step up and help the outstanding Alex Albon if the team wants to have any opportunity of scoring a bigger total than they did last season.

However, finishing higher than last season’s P7 looks unlikely on the basis of testing.

9) Sauber Lucrezia Costa

After the end of the title sponsorship deal with Alfa Romeo, and ahead of the return of Audi in Formula 1, Sauber has undergone a massive restyling during the off season, with the Swiss team now sporting a black livery with bright neon green inserts.

From a racing perspective, 2023 was a challenging year, ending the season only four points ahead of the last place taken by Haas.

The Hinwil-based team has been trying to improve the tough situation, announcing the signing of new Technical Director James Key from McLaren from September 2023, with the British engineer immediately getting to work on the C44.

Testing brought positive feedback from both drivers Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, who both mentioned the improved drivability in comparison to last year’s challenger. The three days in Bahrain went almost smoothly for the duo, with the only hiccup on the final day of a technical issue preventing Bottas to run for most of the morning.

However, it was quickly solved during the red flag, and Zhou was able to set the third fastest time in the afternoon session. Testing times are not always a reliable index of how will a team perform throughout the span of a whole racing season, and only time will tell if Sauber has actually managed to make a step forward with its new contender.

10) Haas — Lucrezia Costa

In last place, we have the American team owned by Gene Haas. In spite of the radical off-season change, which saw long-term Team Principal Guenther Steiner leave the team, and the appointment of former Director of Trackside Engineering Ayao Komatsu as his replacement, there is still a lot of work to be done.

The Japanese engineer has warned that it won’t be easy to move up from last season’s last place in the Constructors’ Championship, but he has started to tackle some of the most pressing problems that afflicted the VF-23.

There is a silver lining: Haas was the team which completed the most laps during the three days of Bahrain tests, with over 440 laps completed by experienced driver duo Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg.

The team’s main concern in their first official outing of 2024 was to address the tyre management and degradation issues, which had severely affected the performance of their challenger in the past season on race day.

Komatsu appeared to be satisfied with the outcome of the three days of testing, but whether they have learned enough ahead of the first race of the year to try and put up a fight to avoid the disaster of ending yet another season dead last is still unknown.