Will F2 steal the show if Red Bull dominates again? What to watch for at 2024 Bahrain GP


The 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix should finally reveal how the F1 order has been reshuffled over the winter, as the new season gets underway. But it's set to be rivalled on the entertainment front by a competitive-looking F2 grid

Red Bull 2023

Will anyone catch the rampant Red Bull?

Red Bull

F1 pre-season testing always offers hints and whispers about which team has gained an advantage over the winter break. But only when the pitlane opens for qualifying at the first grand prix of the year do we know that we’re seeing the true competitive order at the start of the new season.

While Red Bull may appear to once again be on top with an innovative new car design, fans can still hope that Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren haven’t yet shown their hand, and will provide tougher competition at the top in 2024.

There’s also the prospect of greater competition in midfield with the rebranded Stake F1 team (Sauber, which ran under the Alfa Romeo name last year) and Visa Cash App RB — the new name for AlphaTauri, which is following the design lead of sister team Red Bull more closely this year.

The unanswered questions aren’t just around the relative performance of this year’s cars though: will the result of Red Bull’s internal investigation into Christian Horner’s alleged misconduct — of which he was been cleared — effect the running of the championship-winning team, and can F2 youngster Kimi Antonelli make his case to replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in 2025?

All won’t be revealed in Bahrain, but it will set the tone for the rest of the season. Here are the key points to watch for.


Ferrari’s new approach to challenging Red Bull

Ferrari F1 Motor Sport

Could Ferrari finally bring the title fight to Red Bull?

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Red Bull’s RB20 looked ominous in the hands of Max Verstappen during pre-season testing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will coast to the 2024 championship.

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MPH: Can easier-to-drive Ferrari beat bold Red Bull in 2024?
Mark Hughes

MPH: Can easier-to-drive Ferrari beat bold Red Bull in 2024?

During pre-season testing it was interesting to hear both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc comment favourably upon the improvement in the Ferrari’s balance compared to last year’s car. Couple that…

By Mark Hughes

While the reigning champions have focused their efforts on pushing the boundaries of innovation in car design, Ferrari’s engineers have decided on a different approach. As technical director Enrique Cardile stated at the team’s 2024 car launch, the aim of the new car was to “Take on board what the drivers have told us and turned those ideas into engineering reality with the aim of giving them a car which is easier to drive and therefore easier to get the most out of and push to its limits.”

During pre-season testing, both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz commented positively on the new balance of the SF-24, which soon allowed both drivers to make appearances at the top of the timesheets. The new car is also kinder on its tyres and less sensitive to wind gusts — both of which were major downfalls of the Scuderia’s progress in 2023, yet it still scored seven pole positions and a race win.

“Although it still looks a very lively drive on low-fuel, both drivers are reporting that there’s no malice in that liveliness — unlike last year,” said Mark Hughes for Motor Sport. “They can drive it like that quite comfortably. There is lap time in that level of confidence.”

Only time will tell if Ferrari can mount a real challenge, but the signs are certainly there.


Is Alpine in trouble…again?

Esteban Ocon Alpine

A look of concern…

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In the aftermath of pre-season testing, rumours of underperformance have run rife in the Enstone camp.

At the team’s car launch, it was mentioned on numerous occasions how the A524 was “front-to-back new”, only the steering wheel being carried over from last year’s disappointment. But after its first runs out on track, there are no obvious signs that these changes have actually helped.

According to reports, the new Alpine is overweight, aerodynamically inefficient and slow on both single lap and long runs, sparking suggestions that another round of staff changes could be in the offing, on top of recent Enstone exits. 

Ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, team principal Bruno Famin didn’t address the rumours head on but did allude to the fact that pre-season testing had not been an overwhelming success.

“We knew it was not going to be an easy start to the season,” he said. “Accepting these challenges is all part of racing in Formula 1 and it is important that we all push very hard to develop the A524 in the coming weeks and months.”

The team’s goal of returning to the front of the midfield currently looks distant.


Has an unhappy Norris revealed McLaren’s woes? 

Lando Norris

No smiles from Norris during pre-season testing

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While the pre-season testing timesheets are frequently deceptive, the body language of its drivers can often reveal the true story of a team’s performance ahead of the first race of the season.

Despite a storming end to the 2023 campaign, McLaren suffered a problematic test in Bahrain and completed fewer laps than seven of the other ten teams. Lando Norris was impacted the most, having had almost every one of his stints interrupted in one way or another. On Day 1, his first outing in the MCL38 was delayed by a floor change. On Day 2, he suffered through a small fuel system issue. Finally on Day 3, his morning stint was cut short while the team investigated a clutch issue.

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Throughout his post-session interviews, the Briton barely cracked a smile — aside from when he made jibes at his team’s own underperformance — and continually described the car as “quite a chunk behind Ferrari and Red Bull.”

“The car’s alright,” Norris told Sky Sports F1. “There’s a few things which have set us back which was mainly for the high fuel running. But other than that it has been a good test for myself and the team — certainly better than last year.”

When questioned over weather he could match the pace set by Ferrari on Day 3, Norris replied definitively: “Nope. I’m not very convinced we’ve made many steps in the right direction. Bahrain has never been one of our strongest tracks but in other places we’ve made a lot of improvement.”

A cunning bluff to throw other teams off the scent, or the acceptance of another year’s slog?


RB’s pace has rivals concerned 

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Could RB be the prize of the F1 midfield?

Red Bull

With a new name comes a new philosophy for the team once known as AlphaTauri. A decision to use more shared parts with its sister team Red Bull, and to follow its design direction more closely is part of its efforts to be more competitive in F1’s midfield, and to use its resources more efficiently.

At first glance, it appears to have paid off for RB: its car appeared both poised, reliable and quick throughout pre-season testing.

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Yuki Tsunoda‘s fastest time on the C4 tyre was just eight-tenths shy of the fastest time set by Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari (also on the C4) — although both cars could have been running different levels of fuel. Daniel Ricciardo showed similar promise on the long distance runs, with his fastest time just a tenth shy of Lando Norris’ McLaren.

The comparative pace has led to further criticism from McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown, who has long-cautioned that the two teams could eventually lead to a convergence in performance at the front of the grid — leaving little chance for the remaining eight teams to compete.

“The definition of a constructor is someone who develops their own intellectual property,” Brown told Sky Sports. “To have A-B [team] relationships, to have co-ownership of two teams, I think isn’t a level playing field. It’s not what the fans expect. So the FIA really needs to do something about it.”


Could F2 provide the best on-track action?

Kimi Antonelli in F2 shakedown with Prema in 2024

Can Antonelli earn F1 promotion?

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The 2024 F2 season will begin alongside F1’s own in Bahrain — boasting possibly the most talented grid since 2017, when George Russell, Lando Norris and Alex Albon jockeyed for the title and an F1 promotion.

Prema pairing Andrea Kimi Antonelli and Ollie Bearman are widely regarded as the ones to watch — the former in contention for Lewis Hamilton‘s empty Mercedes seat in 2025, despite making his debut in the feeder series. Ferrari Driver Academy member Oliver Bearman is back after turning many heads with three feature race wins in his first F2 campaign last year. In equal machinery, their first on-track battle is set to be fascinating.

There are many more drivers who will be wanting a piece of the title fight, though, such as reigning F3 champion Gabriel Bortoleto, former F2 race winner Victor Martins, Williams Academy driver Zak O’Sullivan and Red Bull junior Isack Hadjar.

The first qualifying session of the season on Thursday afternoon will provide an indication of the possible action to come, followed by races on Friday and Saturday.

Thursday 29 February Friday 29 February Saturday 29 February
F2 Free Practice — 9.05am
Qualifying — 1.55pm
F2 Sprint — 2.15pm F2 Feature Race — 10.30am