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  • Writer's pictureBen Waterworth

Bahrain GP Talking Points: 'Formula NASA' - time to give Verstappen his own one-man series, but race for second closest we've seen

The 2024 F1 season is underway, although for many tuning in during the wee hours of Sunday morning, you might’ve thought you’d just tuned in to race 23 of the 2023 season.


There was no stopping Max Verstappen and Red Bull who did exactly what they have been doing for the last 18 months: dominating.


While the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix wasn’t the most memorable race we’ve ever seen, there are always plenty of things to talk about.


Verstappen so far ahead he should have his own category


A funny meme after the Bahrain Grand Prix summed up the state of F1 right now.


In listing the tiers of Formula 1, Max Verstappen was in a newly defined ‘Formula NASA’, followed by Ferrari and Sergio Perez in ‘Formula 1’, with a variety of tiers ranging from ‘Formula 1.2’, ‘Formula 1.5’ and so on and so forth to a lower tier category reserved for Alpine which I’ll save some words for very shortly. It was an accurate depiction of Formula 1 in 2024.


Not that this is anything new. We are coming off the most dominant single season in Formula 1 history in which Verstappen won 19 and Red Bull 21 of 22 races.


With every race Verstappen wins, it pays to look a little closer as to how much history he is creating.


(Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)


After setting a record last season for most consecutive wins in a row with ten between Miami and Italy, he is now on another streak of eight consecutive wins, meaning his current streak is third on that all-time list.


Should he win in Saudi Arabia this weekend, he will equal the previous record holder, Sebastian Vettel, with nine, and then equal his own record in Australia should he win there as well.


In fact, so dominant has he been since that infamous win in Abu Dhabi in 2021, of the 45 races since he has won 35 of them, a whopping percentage of 77%.


Of the 10 he didn’t win, he finished second in three, finished in the points in five and only didn’t finish two. An incredible strike rate. If you then factor Red Bull into that streak, the team has won 31 of the last 33 races, a percentage of 93% since July 24, 2022 at the French Grand Prix.


Take that as a larger picture since the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix once again, the team has won 38 out of the 45 races for a win percentage of 86%.


And given how far ahead Max was in Bahrain, these numbers look set to grow more into 2024.


The battle for second will be the closest we’ve seen


Max Verstappen winning by 22.457s doesn’t exactly signal for a close season in 2024. But if you look behind him, things are slightly different.


From Sergio Perez in second to Lance Stroll tenth, there was a 1:10.759s difference. If you take the two Astons of Stroll and Fernando Alonso in ninth out of the equation, covering Perez in second to Oscar Piastri in eighth, there was a 33.625s difference.


In comparison, in 2023 from Perez in second to Alexander Albon in tenth, there was a 1:17.787s difference, with the gap between Perez in second to eighth place finisher Valtteri Bottas being 1.00.666s.


To put it into a different perspective, Carlos Sainz in third in 2024 finished only 2.653s behind Perez, while in 2023 Alonso in third was 26.65s behind Perez in second.


No matter which way you look at it, the field in 2024 is much closer to each other than it was a year ago. Albeit fighting for second place of course behind a guy in a different league, but all that means is tighter racing throughout the field, and of course tighter racing for a win should Verstappen ever have an off day.


Early teammate fireworks emerge


Ferrari and RB might have a few issues to look at in 2024 when it comes to internal squabbles.


For Ferrari this was always going to be the case should both their drivers come close to each other on the track and any form of team orders becoming a possibility, given that Carlos Sainz is on borrowed time at the Scuderia as he keeps the seat warm for Lewis Hamilton arriving in 2025.


Our first taste of some spice came in Bahrain, with Charles Leclerc struggling with his brakes, meaning the true pace of his SF-24 wasn’t able to be shown. Enter Sainz, who was able to show the pace, and put himself into a position to overtake his teammate not once, but twice during the race.


It was a nice battle between the Ferrari pair we were witness to during both those occasions, and only served up a possible entre as to some juicy action we may get throughout the season.


The other teammate war emerging came from the RB garage, with Aussie Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda getting into an interesting battle at the very end of the race.


Tsunoda found himself behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen as the Japanese driver tried to get past him for twelfth in the race.


(Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)


However after several laps behind the Dane, and teammate Ricciardo right behind him on the faster soft tyre, RB made the decision to switch the pair to allow Ricciardo a chance to get past Magnussen.


Queue an irate Tsunoda questioning the decision, an irate Ricciardo question why it took Tsunoda so long to let him through, neither car being able to pass the Haas and two angry drivers at the end of the race. It was a teammate battle that perhaps we weren’t expecting to get so spicy so early on.


Given both however are in the hunt for a call up to Red Bull in 2025, it only makes sense that emotions could boilover. Watch this space more so throughout the season to see just how boiling it will get.


Sacre bleu at Alpine


Just when things looked like they couldn’t get worse for Alpine, the Bahrain Grand Prix happened.


Qualifying dead last on Saturday, the team was unable to prove anything more in the race on Sunday, with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly only avoiding bringing up the rear in the race due to the misfortunes of Valtteri Bottas and Logan Sargeant.


This was the 67th start for the French team under the Alpine guise, and is many people are aware, the team set itself an audacious target to be a regular race winner and fighting for Championships by race 100.


Given we are in a record breaking season in terms of season length, the team will reach race 90 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this year. That means that by race 10 of next season, they are expected to start winning.


It’s safe to say that target may need a revisit soon given how quickly the team has fallen in the last 12 months.


Driver of the day needs to be fixed


While it’s somewhat of a meaningless title, the ‘driver of the day’ award is a bit of fun to reward a driver in a race who has put in a strong performance worthy of note.


For the most part, it’s a reflection of just who has shone throughout the race. It is also, more often than not, a bit of a popularity contest, which in all fairness, has been fixed since the days when it could be easily rigged to give the likes of Rio Haryanto the top gong.


Carlos Sainz took out the award for the Bahrain Grand Prix, in a worthy performance that saw 31.4% of the vote come his way. In second, Max Verstappen with 13.3%, third Sergio Perez with 11.4%, Charles Leclerc fourth with 8% and Lando Norris fifth with 5.2%.


Somehow, a certain Lance Stroll was missing from those numbers. A driver who through no fault of his own was spun out at the beginning, sent right back to the back of the field, and yet through some great driving and clever strategy fought his way all the way back up the field to finish tenth and in the points.


Of course, I am slightly biased when it comes to Stroll in this column, but any other driver who had suffered the same fate as Lance and done exactly what he did, would’ve seen many plaudits come his way. However of course with Lance, that is very rarely the case.


If this is an award that wants to be taken seriously, how about weighing the votes with an expert panel and the audience to give it a fair spread? When it comes to other sports, most ‘player of the match’ awards are already given by panels, so why not use that as a reference point while also keeping the fun of a fun vote involved?


By doing so you can add more weight to the award as mentioned, and also provide it with a bit more fairness when it comes to certain drivers who aren’t going to come close to a high vote based on online perception of them whether they put in a good performance or not.

Let’s make it a fairer award that is a true gauge of who is the driver of the day.


This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here

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