F1’s season opener where racing took a back seat: 2024 Bahrain GP diary


Christian Horner dominated the headlines in the run-up to — and during — the 2024 Bahrain GP weekend, despite the best efforts of Alpine, Yuki Tsunoda and a glorious V8

Christian Horner pursued by photographers ahead of the 2024 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix

Horner was the centre of attention for most of the weekend

Getty Images

Formula 1’s longest ever season got underway in Bahrain and yet it was off-track matters that had been dominating headlines for weeks in advance that remained the most talked-about topics throughout the opening race weekend.

All eyes on Christian Horner

It was a remarkable week in many ways in Bahrain, as the focus of the paddock was on the outcome of Red Bull GmbH’s independent investigation into the allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Christian Horner.

This entire feature this week could revolve around the developments, and the rumour and hearsay that was regularly doing the rounds throughout different team members and the media throughout testing and the build-up to the race. What was clear throughout was that nobody knew the whole story, or even half of it with any accuracy, despite some strong claims in multiple different directions.

Christian and Geri Horner in 2024 f1 Bahrain Grand Prix paddock surrounded by photographers

A show of solidarity before the race

Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto Via Getty

Such an example were the loud whispers that there was going to be an announcement on Tuesday, but it never came. Wednesday the decision did arrive, but it was Thursday that was truly bizarre.

As FP2 was in progress, journalists started looking up from their desks at each other and asking: “Did you just get an email about Horner?” An anonymous account – using the date of Feb Twenty Ninth for the name – had sent around what it claimed was evidence from the investigation, including a Google Drive link.

When someone was brave enough to open it (given the risk of some sort of malware), it quickly led to a large crowd gathering around one laptop and clicking through the files included. None of it could be verified at the time, but everyone was reacting in unison, as it became very obvious that somebody wants to ensure the Red Bull dismissal is not the end of any potential damage to Horner.

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There was a statement from the team boss that he wouldn’t comment on speculation, but then Red Bull Racing was led to believe there would be another email during qualifying. If there was one due, it never materialised.

On Saturday, the camera lenses were all fixated on the paddock entrance throughout the day, and it was within two hours of the start of the race that Horner and his wife Geri walked through the gates hand-in-hand in a show of unity, sending people scampering to get a photo. Horner had actually been on-site much longer but had stayed within the confines of the team’s building, then snuck out of a gate behind hospitality to meet his wife and return.

That was followed by majority shareholder Chalerm Yoovidhya arriving and posing for a photo with Horner on the grid, showing where loyalties lie from the Thai side of the energy drink’s business.

If there was any hope that a 1-2 finish would take some attention away from the situation, it was extinguished by Jos Verstappen who said minutes after the race that Horner May destroy the team by remaining in charge.

“There is tension here while he remains in position,” Max’s father told the Daily Mail. “The team is in danger of being torn apart. It can’t go on the way it is. It will explode. He is playing the victim, when he is the one causing the problems.”

Tensions were definitely heightened within the team throughout the weekend, regardless of public-facing statements, and the continual cycle of rumour and counter-rumour based on limited concrete information ensures the opening round taking place hasn’t led to a line being drawn under the topic.

Alpine putting on a brave face

Testing seemed to go relatively smoothly for the majority of teams, but there was one that provided a real question mark as Alpine continued with its approach of running the hardest compounds and high fuel almost exclusively.

Two Alpine F1 cars at the back of the field in 2024 Bahrain GP

The Alpines both qualified on the back row of the grid and fared little better in the race

Clive Rose/Getty Images

That led to initial assumptions the car was slow, but then there was a bit of caution given previous testing lap times. So asking the drivers became an important barometer, and they quite quickly gave off the impression that it could be as bad as it looked.

Esteban Ocon had offered a supportive message over team radio at the end of testing and continued to do so throughout the first race weekend, while Pierre Gasly similarly tried to look for the positives, but a team that has undergone plenty of upheaval in recent years is very likely to see the heat turned up extremely quickly once again if improvements aren’t quick in arriving.

With the team declining to comment on reports that technical director Matt Harman and head of aerodynamics Dirk de Beer have already handed in their resignations, the situation already looks extremely challenging.

RB tensions

In a race devoid of major controversy, it came down to the two team-mates at Visa Cash App RB to provide some drama.

Fireworks over RB of Daniel Ricciardo at end of 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix

Fireworks in Bahrain – and there were more of the on-track variety for Ricciardo (pictured) and Tsunoda

Clive Mason/Getty via Red Bull

Yuki Tsunoda was angered after being asked to give up a position to Daniel Ricciardo when he was trying to attack Kevin Magnussen for 12th place, but two laps after the team order he obliged.

Then after the chequered flag, a surprisingly aggressive overtake into Turn 8 saw Tsunoda lock-up his tyres, spinning them again on the exit as he came perilously close to contact with Ricciardo.

Heated radio messages aside, the tension was clear to see as team principal Laurent Mekies entered into a long discussion with Tsunoda’s manager immediately after the race, the pair remaining civil but eventually deciding to return to the safety of the back of the garage to continue the exchange behind closed doors.

For a team with a popular pairing who appear to get on well off the track, this was a clear sign that there could be fireworks as they each fight for their respective futures within the Red Bull programme.

The sweet, sweet sound of a V8

As it was the 20th anniversary of the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix, something special was planned by the race organisers. Sadly there was no car from the 2004 edition of the race, but there was one from the fifth running.

The drivers’ title-winning McLaren MP4-23 was given an outing with David Coulthard behind the wheel, and the sound of the V8 being called upon out of low speed corners and down long straights was very much appreciated.

David Coulthard in 2008 McLaren MP4-23 F1 car during Bahrain GP demonstration run

Team members dashed to the pitwall to witness the V8 scream

Florent Gooden/DPPI

Nothing against the current amazing pieces of technology that are currently powering modern-day machinery, but there’s a huge addition to the visceral experience at a race track when you can hear the car at every single corner.

In the MP4-23’s case, it led to team members flooding to the pit wall to watch it scream by at full throttle (although at one point a bird failed to escape the approaching McLaren’s path). The smiles as the Red Bull mechanics I was nearest walked off served as a reminder that everyone has a starting point that hooks them into the sport, and romantic memories of previous eras.

A car from a little over 15 years ago is likely to resonate with a large section of the current team members as well as so many fans, and it would be great if even more got a public run out during a season.