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The New Formula 1 Season Is Now Underway. Here’s What to Expect in 2024.

Novelist Ernest Hemingway was of the opinion that there were only three sports—bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering—while the rest were merely games. If alive today, he may amend that list to a single entry: the Formula 1 series, which ran the first race of its new season this past Saturday in Bahrain.

After two years of the Red Bull team charging through the competition as if the racetracks were the streets of Pamplona, this season’s biggest question is: Which team, if any, can hold its own in the ring with leading driver Max Verstappen, the defending three-time champion, and ultimately end Red Bull’s reign.

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Racer Max Verstappen in the lead during Formula 1's 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen being chased by Mercedes-AMG’s George Russell and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc during the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Red Bull usurped the World Constructors’ Championship crown from Mercedes-AMG Petronas in 2022, when it won a record 17 of 22 races that season, followed by 21 first-place finishes in 22 events last year—19 grand prix victories by Verstappen, two by Sergio Perez. As for the first race in 2024, Verstappen and Perez finished first and second, respectively, demonstrating why they are favored to hold the throne.

“I think Max is the world champion and Red Bull is dominating the sport,” stated two-time champion Fernando Alonso, currently with the Aston Martin team, during the preceding week’s preseason testing sessions. “Nineteen drivers in the paddock now will think that [they] will not win the championship.”

Yet as the series enters its stride with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah this weekend, and with a few of the competing teams having climbed higher up the cliff face toward the leaders, Red Bull faces a new and formidable adversary, which, as in mountaineering, is none other than itself.

At the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix, winner Max Verstappen shares the podium stage with Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who captured second, and third-place finisher Carlos Sainz of Ferrari.
At the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix, winner Max Verstappen shares the podium stage with Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who captured second, and third-place finisher Carlos Sainz of Ferrari.

The first race weekend was overshadowed by a staff crisis involving Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner. It erupted weeks ahead of the opening race when a female employee made an official complaint accusing Horner of “inappropriate behavior.” Horner was cleared a day before the first track action in Bahrain, with the release of a statement about an investigation into the allegations by the parent company, Red Bull GmbH. Twenty-four hours later, a bombshell dropped. During the second practice session for the race, 79 WhatsApp messages, said to be between Horner and the employee, were leaked to the media and top Formula 1 personnel, putting the company’s decision—and Horner’s job—into question.

Shortly after the race ended on Saturday, Jos Verstappen, the current Formula 1 champion’s father, told Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper that “there is tension while [Horner] remains in position,” adding that “the team is in danger of being torn apart. It can’t go on the way it is. It will explode.”

Red Bull's team principal Christian Horner (left) and Max Verstappen's father Jos (right) in discussion before practice sessions in Bahrain.
Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner (left) and Max Verstappen’s father Jos (right) in discussion before practice sessions in Bahrain.

Whether Horner, who has run the team since its founding in 2005, stays or goes, the internal struggle at Red Bull Racing is likely to have a negative impact on performance, although Max Verstappen is trying to tune out the noise. “There are a lot of different tracks on the calendar where you have to perform. It’s better not to think about it,” Verstappen is on record as saying. “You just wake up, you go to the track, you see the result.”

Alonso furthered that point, saying that they would have to run the first four races—Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Japan—before the true pecking order of the teams becomes clear. The one that looks to be the greatest threat to Red Bull, at least after the results of both winter testing and the first race, is Ferrari. In Bahrain, its drivers Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc finished third and fourth, respectively.

Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc compete against each other during Formula 1's 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and teammate Charles Leclerc seemed more focused on competing against each other than the rest of the field during the first race of the season.

The Italian team returned from the winter break with renewed vigor, and its director, Frédéric Vasseur, has been extremely busy in his first year with the Prancing Horse. Aside from many new developments on the 2024 car, most of which make it easier to drive and give Sainz the ability to attack again, a revolution occurred in Maranello as well. On February 1, it was announced that Lewis Hamilton, Formula 1’s most successful driver—with seven World Drivers’ Championship titles and 103 victories—will join Ferrari next year.

This, however, means that its current duo is now under more intense pressure than ever. Leclerc must mark his territory as the team’s leading driver before Hamilton arrives, while Sainz, who Hamilton is replacing, wants to show the world that Ferrari is eliminating the wrong man. Last year, Sainz was the only driver not from Red Bull to win a race, which he did in Singapore.

“It’s just important to start the season well, start the season with a strong race, not just for my future, just for myself,” said Sainz after his podium finish in Bahrain.

Mercedes-AMG's Lewis Hamilton (right) and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc share a light moment before Formula 1's 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Mercedes-AMG’s Lewis Hamilton (right) will be joining Charles Leclerc (left) and the Ferrari team next season.

In fact, the biggest battle for most of the drivers this year is with their teammates: More than half of the racers are out of a contract at the end of the season. That will mean many fractious sibling-like conflicts to prove who is strongest behind the wheel within their respective squads.

Even at Mercedes, as Hamilton prepares to leave the crew with whom he won six of his seven world titles, the dynamics between the drivers—as well as between Hamilton and the team in general—will be both exciting and problematic. George Russell, whose contract ends this year, will be desperate to outperform Hamilton, as he did in Bahrain, to prove to Mercedes that he is ready to lead the team.

Mercedes-AMG's George Russell on his way to qualifying for the third position on the starting grid at the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Mercedes-AMG’s George Russell on his way to qualifying for the third position on the starting grid at the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix.

McLaren remains one of the biggest question marks. It catapulted to nearly the top of the series in the second half of last year but then looked weaker during winter testing. In Bahrain, McLaren’s Lando Norris finished sixth while teammate Oscar Piastri ended eighth. Although both drivers are still under contract for another three seasons, Piastri will be eager to challenge Norris now that the former’s rookie season is behind him. Neither driver has ever won a race, but Piastri upstaged the Englishman with a victory in a sprint race in Qatar last October.

Before Bahrain, Norris was skeptical about McLaren’s chances this year: “I think it’s still a very long way behind Red Bull and a long way behind Ferrari. So, plenty of work for us to still try and achieve.” He confirmed this after the race, judging the team’s position to be behind Ferrari and Red Bull, and summing it up as “two big steps to make.”

McLaren's Oscar Piastri (left) and Lando Norris (right) address fans prior to the first race of the season.
McLaren’s Oscar Piastri (left) and Lando Norris address fans prior to the first race of the season.

After a spectacular start to 2023, Aston Martin has lost momentum. Alonso, the oldest driver on the grid at age 43 in July, is trying to prove that he’s still as good as he ever was (while he possibly eyes Hamilton’s seat at Mercedes). And Lance Stroll, the Canadian whose father owns the team, will want to do better than score two-thirds fewer points than Alonso, as he did last year. The two took the last points positions in Bahrain, with Alonso in ninth and Stroll immediately behind him.

Then there are the teams with the most room for improvement, such as Williams, Haas, Kick Sauber, Alpine, and RB—all striving to advance from the back of the grid. Last year’s American rookie, Logan Sergeant, just managed to hold onto his job at Williams, and he knows that 2024 is likely to be his last chance to prove his worth. Daniel Ricciardo is on a mission to beat his teammate, Yuki Tsunoda, and show that he is a better choice than Sergio Perez to return to the parent team of Red Bull (where he raced between 2014 and 2018 before voluntarily leaving).

Aston Martin drivers Fernando Alonso (left) and Lance Stroll (right) during the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso (left) finished ninth during last Saturday’s race, while teammate Lance Stroll (right) came in immediately behind him.

Beyond the teams and drivers, the coming season poses unprecedented challenges. It’s the longest schedule ever with 24 races, which will push the racers, cars, and each team’s more than 60 traveling staff members to their limits. Add to that the six sprint races and the total comes to 30 contests in just over nine months, with the final showdown in Abu Dhabi on December 8. Statistically, at least, this long season should deliver more grand prix wins by someone other than Verstappen and Red Bull compared to the last couple of years.

The drivers competing in the 2024 Formula 1 season.
The drivers competing in the 2024 Formula 1 season.

“In general, other teams are closer,” said Verstappen to the press after his most recent victory. “I just think that today everything just worked really, really well, and I of course don’t expect that to happen every single grand prix in the near future—but still, we’ll take it.” Also happy to take it are the fans when it comes to the wild ride that the 2024 Formula 1 season promises to deliver.

Editor’s note: Writer Brad Spurgeon spent more than two decades covering Formula 1 for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times, and is also the author of Formula 1: The Impossible Collection, from Assouline.

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