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  • Writer's pictureBen Waterworth

Red Bull's gamble pays off as F1 champs leave complacency in the dust for new season

Formula 1 is officially back.

After – let’s be honest – a fairly short off-season, all ten teams finally hit the track in anger as the only pre-season test took place over the last three days at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain.

And with that test maintaining the attention of all F1 fans ahead of the first race of the season at the same venue next week, at least until they jump on Netflix for the latest season of Drive to Survive, there have been several intriguing storylines to emerge across the three days.

The main one to come from Bahrain is that Red Bull have picked up where they left off in 2023, with the brand new RB20 showing impressive pace over the three days.

The car has been the talk of the F1 world since it was the last of the ten cars to be unveiled last week, with its striking design a far cry from what was expected of the defending champions. Its innovate sidepod inlets – dubbed ‘shark mouth’ inlets by many – are a clear effort to help aid in aerodynamic efficiency, which, given how dominant the car was last season, is a bold move by the Austrian team that many observers weren’t expecting.

Additional inlets on the car have also been noted to aid with other aspects such as engine cooling, with some of the new design elements seemingly taking from past Mercedes designs.

In fact, with the majority of teams shifting their cars to replicate the design of the dominant RB19, the fact Red Bull has made more significant changes than expected, as well as taking inspiration from cars it so significantly defeated last season, was a massive shock.

And while both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez demonstrated the pace of the car in Bahrain, neither set the fastest time of the test. That distinction came from the soon-to-be-unemployed Carlos Sainz at Ferrari, who set a time of 1:29.921 on day two of the test. His teammate Charles Leclerc finished second overall, setting a 1:30.322 on the final day.

(Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Times are generally tricky to read into however at a test session, with a wide variety of variables unknown such as fuel levels, car settings and whether some teams are sandbagging or going for glory runs.

The consensus, however, from Sakhir seems to be that while Red Bull are still the team to beat, Ferrari are next best, with several experts commenting on the improvements from the new SF-24 compared to last year in the areas of tyre wear and long-run pace.

Both Leclerc and Sainz have also commented on how the car felt over the three days, saying that it “worked how it was meant to” and feel that will bode well to bridge the gap to Red Bull across the season.

Mercedes meanwhile will leave the test in a positive mood, with both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell praising the feel of the new W15, and its new front wing design passing scrutineering by the FIA. Both drivers were solid with their pace across the test, with Russell setting the third-fastest time overall of the test with a 1:30.368. Hamilton enters his final year with the team ahead of his shock move to Ferrari in 2025, saying that the determination and communication within the team is “the best he has ever witnessed” during his time at Mercedes and said that it has been “a great start” to the year.

Outside of the top three teams, we have seen some interesting pace from the likes of McLaren, Aston Martin and the (terribly) rebranded Team RB.

Daniel Ricciardo finished in the top five in the first two days of testing, admitting that while the car is “decent”, there remains a lot of work to be done to get it up to standard across the season. His teammate Yuki Tsunoda set the seventh overall fastest time of the test, with several in the paddock keeping a close eye on the team in 2024.

Meanwhile, Australia’s other star Oscar Piastri finished with the ninth fastest time of the test with a 1:31.030, with both McLaren drivers admitting there is plenty of work to be done to catch not only Red Bull, but Ferrari and Mercedes as well.

Eyes will remain on Bahrain across the week as the opening round of the 2024 F1 season kicks off on Thursday. How significant will the testing form be in five days’ time? Time will soon tell.

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


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